All posts by J Silk

Land of the Silk Road

A25AFA28-D69F-47F0-997B-DB5326E6D3EC

Is there any more romantic a symbol than that of the Silk Road?  Chinese silks, spices, jade, the western connection to the exotic East.  This mystical route conjures images of camels and nomadic horsemen and has a history of lands that have fallen under the Han, Genghis Khan, the Persians and Soviet Russia, to name a few of the empires that sought to control the trade route.  Everyone from Alexander the Great to Marco Polo have explored here.  Starting in at least the fourth century BCE, the silk road was at least 4,000 miles in length covering 40 countries, but at its centre were “The Stans” of Central Asia.

A6F7A763-68DF-4E1C-8833-F1E3952E8373

Now independent countries, the Central Asian region comprises Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan now coloquially known as “The Stans” (“stan,” the Persian suffice meaning “land of”).  This was the very crossroads of the Silk Road, connecting Muslim lands with the people of Europe, India and China.  The Routes Network of Chang’an-Tian Shan Corridor, covering this area has been protected as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

72B9B2CD-9AD6-4265-842C-38E10EC82240The region was under Persian control from the 8th to 13th Centures AD and perhaps that period explains the demographic of the population today, which is 95% Sunni Islam, with some remaining traces of its past religions, Buddhism, Eastern Orthodox and Christian.  There is still a flavour of Soviet Russia, with some of these countries, supposed democracies, still being ruled by former Soviet leaders.

The amazing geography of this area – arid and mountainous – made agriculture poor but was perfectly suited to nomadic horsemen and animal herders.  East of the Gobi desert and steppe settlements rise the snow-capped Pamir and Tian Shan ranges of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, home to traditional herding communities and some truly epic mountain scenery.  It is these two countries that would be explored now, but for the current global pandemic. 

In the meantime, we shall have to conjure images of exotic skylines of minarets and medressas and caravans loaded down with exotic goods from the East.

We would fly into Tashkent, Uzbekistan but the next day we’d head for Tajikistan and visit its magnificent cities and travel over over the Khargush Pass at 4,344m (14,252’).  The second half of the trip we’d visit the beautiful cities of Kyrgyzstan and travel through the High Pamirs mountain range.

Joanna Lumley, the very first Bond girl, now travel documentarian extraordinaire, travelled the Silk Road.  There are 4 episodes, here is the first:

https://dai.ly/x6vwssc

This is where I’d normally post a photo of me stepping off on a journey, suitcase in tow.  For now, I’m writing from my sunny balcony in fingerless gloves.  Let me leave you with this,

And the people stayed home.
And read books, and listened, and rested,
and exercised, and made art, and played games,
and learned new ways of being and were still.
And listened more deeply. Some meditated,
some prayed, some danced.
Some met their shadows.
And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And in the absence
of people living in ignorant, dangerous,
mindless, and heartless ways,
the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the
people joined together again, they grieved
their losses, and made new choices, and
dreamed new images, and created new
ways to live and heal the earth fully,
as they had been healed

                                                                                       – Kitty O’Meara

Best,

Jan

with thanks to Joan McNeely and Margaret Slade

On assignment

Before travelling to a country with some security issues, like Egypt, Turkey, Russia,  I  obsessively check out https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories before I go.  I never dreamed I would see this message:

A much anticipated trip to Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende and Oaxoca was cancelled, but not before I had researched and drafted the history and background for several blog posts.  The great big world I love to explore has shrunk down to the size of my living room.  So, in the interests of giving me a project and you a diversion, I stand at the ready for your research assignment.  We may not be able to physically travel, but we can open up the world again in virtual imaginings.

62DAE6AF-9CE7-470C-AB1E-EF7BD9D687EB

 So let me know that city or region in the world you’ve always wanted to explore, or perhaps a trip you were planning that was cancelled in the current situation.  If I’ve been there, I’ll repost old posts, if not, I’ll give you all the special little snippets I can find, and all the background that I usually do on the arts, music, food and culture of the place, accompanied by interesting links and downloaded images.  Perhaps next year we’ll have learned enough to know exactly where we want to fly to next.  And that trip to Mexico?  It’s been postponed to 2021, so I will save those posts until then.

COVID-19

This site could also act as a link in these dark times.  If there is a need, post it here, maybe one of us can meet that need.  For example,

Rosie the Riveter?

3482CACB-F986-4949-8C7C-FE4483D180FF

 

Remember when women stepped up to the plate in Canada during the second world war?  There are opportunities for women (or anyone who sews) to step up to the plate for our front line workers during the pandemic.  Some U.S. hospitals have called for “anyone with a sewing machine at home” to make face masks.  You could help your local hospitals now, before the hospital situation becomes dire.  There are patterns and detailed instructions available online.

 

N95-style mask here:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/tjmccue/2020/03/20/calling-all-people-who-sew-and-make-you-can-help-solve-2020-n95-type-mask-shortage/#436b42864e41

and here:

https://freesewing.org/blog/facemask-frenzy/

Home-style face mask here:

https://buttoncounter.com/2018/01/14/facemask-a-picture-tutorial/

Art & Inspiration

Or use this space for inspiration or suggestions.  For example, here’s Jane Goodall’s inspirational message:

Munro’s Books is offering a $5 flat-rate delivery fee across BC during COVID.  

https://munrobooks.com

What very long or challenging books do you finally have time to pick up?  (Or let us know about any favourite.)

You can stream those wonderful Exhibition on Screen films you missed when they were in cinemas, for 1.99 pounds here:

https://www.seventh-art.com/product-category/art/

Reminisce about your visits to Paris here:

https://bonjourparis.com/photography/50-things-i-miss-about-paris-part-i/?utm_source=Bonjour+Paris&utm_campaign=f93728df78-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_03_07_02_50_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_306bdf7563-f93728df78-294883865&mc_cid=f93728df78&mc_eid=11a3f85323

Amsterdam museums bring their  stunning collections into your living room, van Gogh here:

https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en?v=1    

The Rijks here:

https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/rijksstudio

This courtesy of Margaret:

43CA2D69-7700-4B1A-A50A-BA406BE81959

Let’s stay in touch!

Best,

Jan

 

 

 

The Smoke That Thunders

First, A Word About Zim

05C0D4B2-70DD-4934-9B79-3BDC63C54702

We were only in Zimbabwe for a night, but the situation there is volatile (not where we were).  The border crossing was comical.  The official kept me standing there for 15 minutes while he fiddled with a stuck stapler, frequently banging it on the counter, which of course accomplished nothing, until I just wanted to snatch it from his hands and fix it myself, but restraint was the order of the day.

17EAED23-49E6-4101-A3E1-1A6C2AE27ED7

 

After 30 years of corruption and dictatorship of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe may be in even worse straits than South Africa and Namibia.   

6ED2725F-D7FD-4D2E-9F99-20FA7C84012EThe current president, Emmerson Mnangagwa has struggled to fulfil promises of economic prosperity and greater political freedom. The health system has largely collapsed amid the worst economic crisis in more than a decade.  Frustrations are running high as the economy crumbles. Inflation was last calculated at 300% by the International Monetary Fund in August, the world’s second highest after Venezuela.   Electricity is only on for a few hours per day in the middle of the night, so that is when people have to work, and fresh water taps work for only a few hours on day a week.

In November in the capital of Harare, protesters were met with police who fired tear gas and water cannons and struck baton blows.  Some Zimbabweans allege that repression is worse than under the late Robert Mugabe, who oversaw widespread rights abuses that led to international sanctions.

There may be some hope.  The government is taking steps to turn the economy around, having just announced that the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe plans to incrementally inject $1 billion into the economy over the next six months, stimulating demand and production in a measured manner while keeping money supply in check.  We saw long lineups of people waiting at the banks.

The Geopolitical Monitor states that “implementing reforms – especially after decades of mismanagement – is a painful process and Zimbabweans are tired. But with political will tangible results are gradually being achieved. The country may be on the cusp of a better future, finally putting the years of isolation behind it. Perseverance and collaboration will help to ease the way.”

The Smoke that Thunders

Early this morning we left Botswana and crossed into Zimbabwe to witness the dreamy, amazing Victoria Falls.  At the Falls, four countries merge:  Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and Botswana.  Victoria Falls are on the Zambezi River.  My research suggests the best viewing point for the falls is in Zimbabwe.

I heard recently from two independent sources that Victoria Falls was nothing but a dribble.  I had the impression that was on the Zambia side, not the Zimbabwe side, and it appears that is correct.  The Zambia visa is less expensive than the Zim visa, so people make the mistake of choosing to see them from Zambia.

BA132CD7-FB8D-4D1D-A13F-F908B58ADAC6

That said, the water was at a three-year low and we were visiting at the driest time of year.  The best time to see the falls begins in March.  There were still falls, but half of the length of the sheet, which is what makes these falls so unique, was dry.  This was more evident in the air.  We took a helicopter spin to get the bigger picture.

On the ground, walking the 18 points from which to view the falls from Zimbabwe, they were more impressive.

01B1F678-2E9F-437E-9F65-EBA480C1A2B8

66947659-BBE9-4760-947A-D2DF9BA090D1


We could hear the roar of the falls and see the spray before we saw the actual falls themselves. This is one of the reasons why the local Makalolo tribe’s name for the falls, Mosi-oa-Tunya, “The Smoke That Thunders,” is so appropriate.

610D66C3-4E9A-492F-A2C5-729BB0A52EE2
Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone (“Livingstone, I presume”) renamed them Victoria Falls when he became the first white man to see them, on November 16th 1855.   Having heard stories of a spectacular waterfall, Livingstone paddled down the Zambezi in a dugout canoe and landed on a small island at the lip of the falls.  In his diary, Livingstone wrote of the falls: “scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”

7AF94FE8-F420-45D5-87E2-BA20159D570A

 

 

Livingstone Island in the background.

 

We saw the Devil’s Cataract, a separate particularly heavy and dangerous flow.

The falls are twice the height of Niagara Falls and twice the width of its Horseshoe Falls. 

The spray thrown up by the falls creates a special rainforest microclimate along the rims of the falls where there is 24/7, 365 days of annual rainfall, in what is otherwise a very dry area.  We witnessed the spray and the full-on rain in the forest.

No, thank you.  During the months of September to December, tourists enjoy ‘toying with danger’ on the edge of the waterfalls at the naturally formed Devil’s Swimming Pool.  Several have died falling over the natural stone barrier and plunging down the falls.

C7D85A90-F80C-42D1-AC7D-8F4EE19BD59B

7E9D4E17-AA36-4A71-8546-21B09C89C95D

 

The Falls were beautiful, but I’d still like to see them like this, at full force.

 

 

I guess I’ll just have to come back.

Best,

Jan

Birds of Chobe

,We saw some wonderful bird life in this beautiful park both on the water and the land.

4592B810-31BC-4AB8-A2D6-1785B16443DF

 

 

Malachite Kingfisher

 

The magnificent Marabou Stork:

A6C4F133-9D2E-45B7-A870-64D891BAF7B4

 

 

Fish Eagle

 

Glossy Ibis and Sacred Ibis:

African Darter:

Goliath Heron and Grey Heron:

African Spoonbill and Egrets:

24FEF4FA-BD6F-41DA-846A-7179D1D8538F

White-backed Vultures:

Egyptian Geese:

Farewell, beautiful Chobe National Park:

EFBE94D1-1934-4DF1-9972-0FAEE805D2D3.jpeg

North of the park, the Chobe River meets the Zambezi River and tumbles over Victoria Falls, where we are headed tomorrow.

Best,

Jan

Monkeying Around

Chacma Baboon
Status:  Non-threatened, but may become so

6C160C28-0315-420F-BB98-65A631BF5D1B

This largest species of monkey has a distinctive dog-like head.  It’s fascinating to observe their behaviour.  They live in large troops and have a complex, rigid social structure with a matriarchal lineage and plenty of inter-troop movement by males seeking social dominance.  Female ranking within the troop is inherited through the mother and remains relatively fixed, while male ranking is often in flux, especially when the dominant male is replaced. Chacmas are unusual among baboons in that friendships form not with members of the same sex but with unrelated adult males and females.

With a highly organised defence system, the only predator that seriously affects them is the leopard, which will try to pick them off at night, whilst they are roosting in trees or cliffs.  They sleep in large groups and have a distinct synchronized morning dispersal system.  Dispersal will be initiated by a single individual, and at least five followers must be recruited for a successful dispersal initiation.   

A20A5EA4-956B-4A8F-8B8C-8529D907D487Orphaned baboons whose mothers have disappeared or died are adopted and cared for by both mals and females,  sleeping close to the infant, grooming and carrying it and protecting it from harassment by other members of the troop.

Vervet monkey
Status:  Least Concern (but numbers diminishing)

61907EBD-D61D-431E-8E5B-682F94467BC6

 

The vervet is probably the world’s most numerous monkey and inhabits the savannah and woodland, spending most of its time on the ground.  The vervet’s light grey coat, black face and white forehead band are distinctive – as are the male’s garish blue genitals.

92A477E1-42C6-4235-949E-FFC070E507B0

 

Vervets live in troops averaging about 25 animals and are found only around the narrow belts of woodland beside the Orange and Kunene rivers, and in the lush areas of Mahango and the Caprivi Strip.  They stay in the same troop for life.

Usually, the female Vervet monkeys do not have a lot of mates. Throughout their life, they have a small number of mates; males on the other hand have several mates during their lifetimes. Though, there is not a lot known about how the Vervet monkey reproduces. It is known that usually a female will give birth once a year to one young.  Most females love to actively take a huge amount of time raising the babies.

Vervets are active during the day and roost in trees at night. They eat mainly fruit and vegetables. 

We saw them in Mahongo and Chobe parks, but the baboons were far more photogenic.

Lesser Bushbaby
Status:  Widespread – Non-Threatened

4F65C4F7-593F-439C-9B62-C9A42F28E125I’m thinking from the looks on these guys’ faces, they have just seen the male vervet monkey’s sapphire jewels for the first time!  

The lesser galago, also called the lesser bush baby, is one of the smallest primates, about the size of a squirrel. Their plaintive cries and cute appearance may account for the name “bush baby.” They have night vision goggles for eyes and large, delicate ears that can track insect prey in the dark. Despite their small size, the bush baby produces loud, shrill cries surprisingly like those of a human baby.

Aside from these baby-like cries, they make croaking, chattering, and clucking sounds or shrill whistles in case of danger.  They are almost impossible to see except for possibly a glimpse of two red eyes peering down from a treetop at night, but we didn’t see them by day or night.   

Best,

Jan

 

A Dazzle

Status:  Vulnerable

D2279B4B-3046-464F-9996-731CE8943C07

Zebras have very different temperaments to horses. They’re far more aggressive and a lot more dangerous. Adorable as they are, ebras have been known to kick each other to death, they will viciously bite any human that comes too close, and there are even many accounts of zebras killing lions.

907D69F7-FA55-4E65-9FD2-09143BF0AEF9

All this only made the zebra more desirable to colonials who wanted to display their power and wealth.

141C4013-DD47-4580-A114-752B39363063

 

 

Jumping an obstacle: riding a zebra in East Africa, about 1900, Carpenter, Frank G., 1855-1924

 

EB776789-3AC7-4036-BE65-1DD99121533F

 

Lionel Walter Rothschild (1868-1937), 2nd Baron Rothschild, with his famed zebra carriage, which he frequently drove through London

C8662DFB-AC58-4ADE-86DA-8CC10CCB6A73

 

I had never heard of the “mountain zebra” (Equus zebra) which is the most common zebra of southwest Africa, meaning they have adapted well to the mountains, heat and drought of the region.  The Hartmann’s Mountain Zebras are good climbers and live in hot, dry, rocky, mountainous and hilly habitats. They prefer slopes and plateaus as high as 1,000 m (3,300 ft) above sea level, although they do migrate lower during winter. Their preferred diet is tufted grass, but in times of shortage, they browse, eating bark, twigs, leaves, buds, fruit, and roots.  We saw them on a hilltop in southern Namibia.

D8D4D640-3C11-47C8-9959-068ACA759D1DThere are lots of propositions for the eternal question of how zebras got their stripes, but the previously unrecorded ability of zebras to erect their black stripes was discovered by comparing the temperatures of living zebras to a zebra’s hide. The latter got hotter than the former by as much as 16°C/29°F. The suggestion is that the raising of black hairs transfers heat from the skin to the hair surface.

There is no denying the zebra is dazzling, so it is not surprising a group of them has been classified as a “dazzle.”  Each animal, but even more so in numbers, look like a piece of modern art.  These are some of the savannah zebras we saw in Etosha.

They look even better as the sun goes down.

Best,

Jan

Tswana!

65BE119E-EBD9-4E72-99A1-CC5E68BB73D3F5013608-2A78-4548-8D26-0B77E7E73DDDYesterday, we crossed the border into Botswana, saying goodbye to beautiful Namibia and our amazing guide, Tuhefani (he was making the long drive all the way back to Windhoek in 2 days in order to vote in the upcoming election).  

We made the short drive to the magnificent Chobe National Park. With one of the highest percentages of land set aside for wildlife preservation in the world, Botswana is one of the top wildlife destinations in Africa. Fortunately, the government of Botswana has also recognized that low volume tourism is the best way to balance the needs of tourists and the wildlife they come to see.   Today, we will be among the lucky tourists to visit.

91C5FDD7-6B4C-4425-BCFC-DFE7C32D3DB4
In the 1930s, British colonial commissioner, Sir Charles Rey, visited the Chobe River and subsequently proposed that the whole region become a wildlife reserve, following the trend set by the newly-proclaimed Kruger National Park in South Africa to move away from hunting and towards conservation.

In 1932, 24,000 sq km of land was declared a non-hunting area.  Creation of the national park was delayed by heavy tsetse fly infestations in 1943, but by 1953 the project was back on the table again. The Chobe Game Reserve was officially created in 1960, before becoming a national park in 1967.

F2DFE1CA-A88A-4333-B457-4839926CA811

What I know of Botswana I learned mostly from Mma Ramtoswe and the Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency books by Alexander McCall Smith and the HBO series.

Roots

In the 14th century, Botsana’s history had all the drama of an opera.  One of the most significant developments in Botswana’s human history was the evolution of the three main branches of the Tswana ethnic group during the 14th century.   Three brothers – Kwena, Ngwaketse and Ngwato – broke away from their father, Chief Malope, to establish their own tribes.  In the 18th century, following a quarrel between Chief Khama I and his brother, Tawana, the Ngwato clan split further.  Tawana left Serowe and established his chiefdom in the area around Maun. The four major present-day Batswana groups – the Batawana, Bakwena, Bangwaketse and Bangwato – trace their ancestry to these splits and Botswana’s demographic make-up owes much to the dispersal of the various groups.

Colonization

C0E7892D-5318-4370-8429-A99F9417D558

In 1836 around 20,000 Boers set out on the Great Trek across the Vaal River into Batswana, setting up their own state ruling the Transvaal – a move ratified by the British in the Sand River Convention of 1852. Effectively, this placed the Batswana under the rule of the so-called new South African Republic, and a period of rebellion and heavy-handed oppression ensued. Following heavy human and territorial losses, the Batswana chiefs petitioned the British government for protection from the Boers.  Eventually the British conceded, triggering the first Boer War.  The war continued until the Pretoria Convention of 1881, when the British withdrew from the Transvaal in exchange for Boer allegiance to the British Crown.

AC1C6241-8207-4DFA-A050-D66E8A0F2D0DThe extent to which the British subordinated Botswanan interests to those of South Africa during this period became clear in 1950. In a case that caused political controversy in Britain and across the Empire, the British government banned Seretse Khama from the chieftainship of the Ngwato and exiled him for six years. This was done in favour of South Africa, who objected to Khama’s marriage to a British woman at a time when racial segregation was enforced in South Africa.

Independence

A2042406-1557-49B3-8898-3569BB7C75FDIn the 1950’s, the idea of an independent Botswana germinated.  In 1962, the moderate Bechuanaland Democratic Party formed and set a timetable for independence and a new nonracial constitution, drawing on support of the local chiefs.  The British gratefully accepted the BDP’s peaceful plan for a transfer of power, and Khama was elected president when general elections were held in 1965. On 30 September 1966, the country – now called the Republic of Botswana – was granted full independence.  The BDP has been in power ever since, winning 38 of 57 seats in last month’s election.  On November 26, 2019, joint opposition parties challenged the results of voting in 19 constituencies, a move that could result in the country’s electoral commission calling fresh elections in those districts, so the long hold of the BDC may be starting to fracture.

Sundowner Cruise on the Chobe River

B3133423-7427-4AC8-A4D8-2054103748C0

After checking into the lovely Chobe Safari Lodge, we took a late afternoon boat ride.  The Chobe River runs through the park, and there are islands and tributaries making an excellent home for many creatures, including the incredible hippopotamus.

The River Horse
Status:  Vulnerable

F67A0AB8-1345-4018-B7D1-F37C1837FD32

The hippopotamus must be one of the most unusual animals on the planet.   Despite their physical resemblance to pigs and other terrestrial even-toed ungulates, the closest living relatives of the Hippopotamidae are cetaceans (like whales, dolphins, porpoises) from which they diverged about 55 million years ago.

Hippopotamuses love water, which is why the Greeks named them the “river horse.” Hippos spend up to 16 hours a day submerged in rivers and lakes to keep their massive bodies cool under the hot African sun. Graceful in water and good swimmers, they can hold their breath underwater for up to five minutes. However, they are often large enough to simply walk or stand on the lake floor, or lie in the shallows. Their eyes and nostrils are located high on their heads, which allows them to see and breathe while mostly submerged.   Both reproduction and childbirth occur in water.

925EB28B-F926-4338-906F-9D8CC8ABC198Although hippos lie close to each other in the water, they are actually solitary and do not seem to form social bonds except between mothers and daughters. Occasionally, they will bask alone on the shore, and if their skin cracks, they secrete an oily red moisturizer which gave rise to the myth that they sweat blood.  They rise gracefully from the banks of the water at night to graze alone on about 40 kilo of grasses.  After a night of feeding, they return to the water in the exact same place, so you do not want to get between her and the water.

Their powerful jaws are capable of opening up to 150 degrees revealing their enormous incisors.  Male hippos appear to continue growing throughout their lives as do their ivory canine teeth which can reach 50 cms long.  On land, they are capable of running 30 km/h over short distances.  The hippo is highly aggressive and unpredictable and all these factors make the hippo one of the most dangerous animals in the world.

Hippos have long been popular zoo animals. The first zoo hippo in modern history was Obaysch, who arrived at the London Zoo on 25 May 1850, where he attracted up to 10,000 visitors a day and inspired a popular song, the “Hippopotamus Polka.”

https://youtu.be/qW0EdkFtfBM

We saw loads of these unique creatures today.

We also saw the Waterbuck, whose unusual backside markings are explained by the joke that the waterbuck was the first antelope to use the freshly painted toilets on Noah’s Ark.

Some of the critters we have seen before were here, too.

Chobe being what it is, we didn’t have to leave our hotel before we saw wildlife.
E5EA676A-4953-4503-B20F-322B7C4C753A
We got up at the break of dawn for a game drive in the park.  No sooner had we registered with the park ranger and pulled into the park, than we saw these beauties:

We saw some more beautiful animals I have already described, as well as the hideous monitor lizard and a pair of alligators fighting, but the fellow in behind gave up quickly.

Spring is an absolutely lovely season to visit, we saw so many adorable babies!

75B8B782-4FF1-42ED-AE1E-C48B84B6E5D3

The warthog mama and her babies were an adventure, because they were living under the porch of my cabin and I had to be escorted to my room by security.  You don’t want to come between this mama and her little ones, she has nasty, razor-sharp  tusks and is perfectly willing to use them in their defence.   I felt quite sorry for her – how hard it must be to raise little ones when you can’t talk, have no thumbs, are surrounded by predators and find yourself trying to raise them among the bedlam of a sprawling hotel.  All three of them had to back into the hole she made one at a time to access the safe space under my porch.

Tis group of elephants strolled past us so closely that we held our breath when these two turned toward us and shot us a meaningful glance – but one look at us oldsters and they shrugged, turned and carried on.

DB6CD290-5C30-490E-B985-BA334DEB17AA

Best,

Jan