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Journeys in Africa

Koeksister – a South African delicacy

August 30th, 2015 for

Koeksister

As a child growing up in southern Africa a weekly treat was a koeksister. Every Saturday my mother would park on the main square right in front of Bamfords Bakery. As we got out of the car the aroma of fresh bread and baked goods would assault the senses – I remember it like it was yesterday.

However there were errands to run and first was always the supermarket. Mother was an avid bargain shopper and with three supermarkets in the main street and list in hand, we would visit all three comparing prices of each item on the list. We then returned to each to secure the items they were featuring at the lowest price. Tedious it may sound but the Dairy Den was located between market two and three and served the most delicious soft serve ice cream in a cone. And on special days there was a chocolate flake added making it a Choc 99 – what a delight!

But I digress. With groceries in hand there was the occasional visit to Holdsworths the Chemist (pharmacy) and perhaps the Hobby Shop (my older brother was an avid airplane modeler) and then on to what had been anticipated all week…..the bakery.

As you walked in the overwhelming aroma of sweetness of the freshly made koeksisters prevailed. They were always fresh, dunked in the most glorious of syrups and ready to explode in your mouth. Of course they were purchased and sat like the bait of temptation in the box until we got home and all sat down to lunch as a family. Finally the moment arrived. There were no microwaves in those days so we ate them at room temperature. I can’t imagine that warming them up would have improved them…they were already perfection.

koeksister

Some people say a koeksister is the equivalent of a doughnut but trust me..doughnuts don’t hold a candle to these incredible pieces of culinary delight. All too often I see recipes that say ‘easy koeksisters’ or ‘koeksisters in a snap’ but despite the fact that I am fairly handy in the kitchen my attempts, thus far, to recapture this moment in time have ended in abject failure and so I regard the makers of these creations in the highest esteem.

It was, therefore, with great anticipation that after more than thirty years I returned to South Africa and top of my list was securing a koeksister. The first night in the hotel, as a turn down notion, there, sitting on a ceramic tile beside my bed was a miniature koeksister. I thought I was going to weep at how quickly my desire had been fulfilled. I lifted it to my mouth, felt the sticky syrup, and took a bite. Total disappointment. This was not the koeksister of my childhood and I desperately hoped that my colleagues, who had been regaled with tales of my desperate need for a koeksister, were not similarly chomping on this imposter and thinking I was crazy!

The following day, after colluding with our guide, we decided that at some point during the next two days in Cape Town we would stop at a true local bakery and secure koeksisters. As it turned out the next two days were over the top, and more, with some of the most amazing repasts, snacks and delicacies ever to cross my lips and in a state of being continually full, the bakery stop simply never happened.

So just exactly what is this love of my life, this koeksister? The traditional braided version originates from the Afrikaners though there is a Cape Malay version which is spicy and has a sprinkling of coconut on top. While there is much to be treasured in Cape Malay cuisine, the Afrikaner version is, for me, what this is all about! The format is simple – dough deep fried in oil and immediately dipped into cold syrup (the magic moment) resulting in a crisp sticky outside and a melt in your mouth interior. You cannot possibly imagine how good they are until you have had one…..and having the real McCoy requires a trip to South Africa. Yes, you will love Cape Town, be thrilled by the great whites and enchanted by the wildlife – but your first real koeksister bring with it the promise of a life changing experience. Trust me!

KOEKSISTER RECIPE

Koeksister’s Dough
   2 Cups cake flour
   1/2 tsp. salt
   2 tbsp. baking powder
   4 tbsp. of butter
   1 egg
   1/2 cup of water
   Oil for frying

Syrup for the Koeksister
   1 kg of sugar
   1 and 1/2 cups of water
   1/2 tsp. ground ginger
   2 cinnamon sticks
   juice of one lemon

South Africa’s Wonder: Table Mountain

August 30th, 2015 for

When I first visited Cape Town, South Africa it was in early December 2008. Arriving at the airport I was met and transferred to my hotel by an African Travel sister company representative from Thompson’s Africa. It was nighttime and city was ablaze with holiday lights.
“You are lucky” the driver commented. “Table Mountain is illuminated for the holiday season and not too many people have a chance to see this.”

David Schwenk on Table Mountain

I stared in amazement. High intensity spotlights flooded mountainside with light. A sight to see.
Interestingly, the first time Table Mountain was illuminated was in 1947 during the British Royal Family’s visit. It was also a sight to see for English explorer Sir Frances Drake who gazed upon it around 1580. “The fairest Cape, the most stately thing we saw in the whole circumference of the globe.” Drake wrote in his ship’s log.

Now, I’ve seen other magnificent peaks in the world, namely, the Matterhorn in Zermatt and Sugar Loaf in Rio-De-Janeiro. These giants are taller but Table Mountain is one of the most recognizable mountains in the world. It stands 3,280 feet high, ending on a virtually flat top mesa. That’s about 3 Eiffel Towers stacked on top of each other.

View from Table Mountain

Table Mountain also stands right in the middle of the smallest and richest floral kingdom in the world with 2250 different species of flora surrounding it. It also stands on the tip of the African Continent. No wonder Table Mountain was declared one of the new Seven National Wonders of the World in 2011. It also earned the prestigious title of one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites in 2004.

Descending on the Rotair Cable Car

This past May, I had a chance to return to Cape Town and see Table Mountain once again. But unlike my first visit in 2008, I had a chance to go to the top of this magnificent peak. Ascending to the top was a thrill in itself. Unlike other gondola cable cars, Table Mountain has what’s called a “rotair” car. The floor of the cars rotate through 360 degrees during the ascent or descent, giving passengers a panoramic view.

Once on top of the peak the views are incredible. One could see the infamous Robbin Island the “Alcatraz” of South Africa. Here, Nelson Mandela was incarcerated, along with some 3000 other anti-apartheid activists, for two decades of a life sentence. In 1996, Robben Island was declared a National Monument and a World Heritage Site in 1999. Gazing down upon one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I felt so grateful that I finally succeeded in reaching the top of this incredible mountain. And, when you go to Cape Town, you must also take that cable car ride to the top of South Africa’s wonder – the Table Mountain.

 

Termites are amazing

August 30th, 2015 for

On a recent safari in Thornybush Game Reserve adjacent to South Africa’s Kruger National Park, our ranger stopped next to a termite mound. It was about 8 feet high and as big around. The ranger explained that the mound was twice as deep in the earth as it was tall! “Like an iceberg” he said. Astonishing! Now, I’ve never thought much about termites. (Except when I lived in Florida and didn’t want them munching on my house) But when he said the mound was twice as deep as it was tall, I was amazed.

Some mounds can grow to 90 feet high! The mounds contain millions of termites living underground. Deep Inside the mound is an extensive system of tunnels and conduits that serves as a ventilation system for the underground nest. There are also numerous gallery chambers. One chamber contains the queen of the termite colony. Our ranger said that one queen can lay up to 30,000 eggs a DAY!

The mounds termites build are extremely complex in there architecture. They might just look like a pile of dirt but they serve the insects well. The mounds surface at ground level is very porous. So, the outside air can penetrate the mound’s walls and cool the hot air rising from the underground chambers where the termites live. The mound acts as an “air conditioning system” keeping the insects cool in the hot African environment.

The mounds help to create biologically diverse habitat that helps the survival on many, many species. Ants are termite’s natural enemies. When they battle the dead from both sides provide nutrients for the soil around the mounds. A few times that I’ve seen cheetahs they also seem to be lying or sitting up on a termite mound. Cheetahs or leopards climb a tall termite mound to scope his territory for predator and/or prey. Other animals frequent the mounds including monkeys, elephant and mongoose. Their feces and scraps of food also add to the nutrients in the surrounding soil. This allows plant life to flourish and attracts animals. It is a never ending cycle of life around the termite mounds.

Nature is truly a wonder.

Leopard on Termite mound

Reasons to Safari in East Africa

August 28th, 2015 for

THE AMBOSELI NATIONAL PARK: MOUNT KILIMANJARO
After an adventure-filled day on safari, “magical” can only begin to describe the experience of sipping sundowners overlooking your lodge’s waterhole with Tanzania’s snow-clad Mount Kilimanjaro as your backdrop.

RWANDA AND UGANDA: GORILLAS IN THE MIST
From your lush eco-lodge in Rwanda’s Virunga Mountains and Parc National Des Volcans or Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, tread softly and observe in wonder the families of rare, habituated mountain gorillas.

LEWA WILDLIFE CONSERVANCY: SAVING RHINOS
Northern Kenya’s popular, family-friendly wildlife-viewing destination, Lewa is lauded for its groundbreaking rhino rehabilitation efforts. Experience an understanding of wildlife, and an authentic interaction with the local community.

MAHALE MOUNTAINS: ENDANGERED CHIMPANZEES
With its golden beaches framed by jungle-covered peaks along the shores of Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania’s beautiful, isolated Mahale Mountains are home to some 1,000 of the last remaining chimpanzees in Africa.

MASAI MARA AND SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK: THE GREAT MIGRATION
The annual Great Migration of millions of wildebeest and other herbivores across East Africa’s Serengeti-Mara ecosystem is one of the greatest spectacles in the natural world — the perfect “Out of Africa” safari.

NGORONGORO CRATER: WORLD’S LARGEST
Acclaimed for being one of the greatest natural wonders of the planet, Tanzania’s great unbroken caldera is the world’s largest crater. Prepare to be awed as you observe
the calliope of wildlife.

SAMBURU NATIONAL RESERVE: THE SPECIAL FIVE
Kenya’s pastoral Samburu tribe welcomes you to the land of “the special five” — the Grevy’s zebra, the Somali blue-necked ostrich, the Beisa oryx, the reticulated giraffe and the dainty gerenuk.

SELOUS GAME RESERVE: VAST AND UNTOUCHED
For those desiring a wild and rugged safari in an untouched land, Tanzania’s Selous is the answer. Africa’s biggest game reserve is even larger than Switzerland.

TARANGIRE NATIONAL PARK: BAOBABS AND ELEPHANTS
Majestic baobabs dwarf the herds of elephants that feed beneath them in Tanzania’s Tarangire. The park’s permanent river serves as a lifeline for the Maasai people
and a great diversity of wildlife.

Reasons to Safari in Southern Africa

August 28th, 2015 for

CAPE TOWN: THE BEAUTIFUL MOTHER CITY
Voted “Most Beautiful City in the World” by various top media, Cape Town is a “must see” for first-times to South Africa wit its iconic Table Mountain, sweeping ocan views and gastronomic delights. 

KRUGER PRIVATE GAME RESERVES: THE BIG FIVE
Guests are known to have spotted “The Big Five” in one morning in South Africa’s most famous reserve. A quick flight from Johannesburg, Kruger boasts the most
luxurious safari lodging.

MADAGASCAR: LEMURS AND LUSH FORESTS
The only place on earth to observe ever-evolving lemurs in the wild, this lush island nation of shimmering beaches and forests delights seasoned travelers with its intriguing Malagasy culture and welcoming people.

HWANGE NATIONAL PARK: ELEPHANTS EVERYWHERE
Tens of thousands of elephants, along with some 100 animal species, roam Zimbabwe’s largest game reserve. The vast grasslands recall the interior of Africa as it was more than 150 years ago. 

OKAVANGO DELTA: WORLD’S LARGEST INLAND DELTA
Flighseeing above Okavango’s lush islands, you’ll be struck by the immensity of the world’s largest inland delta. For fantastic birding, explore its endless waterways by mokoro; then, take game drives in search of wildlife. 

BEST FAMILY SAFARIS: MALARIA-FREE
Bursting with wildlife, easily accessible and malaria-free, several Southern African game parks rank top for family safaris. Check out South Africa’s Pilanesberg National Park and the Madikwe or Eastern Cape Game Reserve. 

KAFUE, LUANGWA AND LOWER ZAMBEZI RIVER: REMOTE ADVENTURE
For an extremely remote and exclusive safari experience, delve into the lush rivers and flood plains of Zambia’s Kafue; Luangwa, where walking safaris were pioneered; or the game-rich Lower Zambezi National Park. 

SOSSUSVLEI AND THE NAMIB DESERT: STRANGE LANDS
If you are seeking surreal photos of desolate landscapes or the solitary oryx, venture to the remote deserts of Namibia. Climb Soussusvlei’s red dunes, track black rhinos and be fascinated by the semi-nomadic Himba way of life. 

VICTORIA FALLS: “THE SMOKE THAT THUNDERS”
Crashing down the Zambezi River between Zimbabwe and Zambia, Victoria Falls is known by the locals as “Mosi-oa-Tunya” or “the smoke that thunders.” It’s recorded as the world’s largest curtain of falling water. 

 

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