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Watch out for kuku, dassies (or hyrax or rock rabbit), and small buck (deer)

Watch out for kuku, dassies (or hyrax or rock rabbit), and small buck (deer)

A rural shop where the braai meat might be bought

A rural shop where the braai meat might be bought

Just about every country has their own ‘way of speaking’, their own special words, even when the most popularly spoken language is a common one (like English). South Africa is definitely one of those countries. We were in this wonderful country recently and thought it would be fun to give you a few ideas about these phrases and  how to speak English ‘South African Style’. These are some of the words/phrases that we find people in the US often get confused over.

Things you’ll probably hear (often) in South Africa:

Just now (in SA)—Sometime soon; Shortly.

Now now—Sooner than “just now”.

Howzit—Friendly greeting as in, “How is it going?

Play play—Pretend.

A leg of lamb for the braai

A leg of lamb for the braai—thanks Vera G

Boot—Trunk of your car.

Bonnet—Hood of your car

Robot—Traffic lights.

Petrol—Gasoline.

Braai —Barbecue.
 Having a braai is a favorite SA pastime

Hold thumbs—Cross your fingers that something will happen.

Make a plan—Somehow, we’ll make it work.

Lekker—Very nice.

Biscuits—Cookies

Self-explanatory!

Self-explanatory!

And some road signs:

Rumble strips

Traffic calming zone

We approach the Dead Sea from the desert hills

We approach the Dead Sea from the desert hills

Even from our bus we can see that the north and south parts of the Dead Sea are getting separated

Even from our bus we can see that the north and south parts of the Dead Sea are getting separated

One of the world’s first health resorts, the Dead Sea has a far from healthy future.

The Dead Sea is in the Jordan Rift Valley and its main tributary is the River Jordan. It is actually a salt lake. It is 304m deep (997 ft), making it the deepest hypersaline lake in the world. In 2011 the salinity was measured at 34.2% (9.6 times as salty as the ocean), which makes it one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water. However, since about 1950 the water level has dropped about 130 feet, and it’s estimated that now the level drops around 3 feet every year. It’s called the Dead Sea as its composition cannot support aquatic life. At 428 m (1407 ft) below sea level, it’s the lowest place in the world—a mind-boggling concept anyway, even before considering seas and salts.

The mountain desert is a fascinating, surreal kind of place

The mountain desert is a fascinating, surreal kind of place

If you look hard, you can see camels in the distance

If you look hard, you can see camels in the distance

As we drove from Jerusalem down to the Dead Sea, we passed a large board announcing “Sea Level” and then markers every so often, saying “minus 200m” for example. As we drove down, the landscape changed from groves of date palm trees and many vegetable tunnels to much drier and sandier with amazing rock formations. Some wild camels roam, and at a couple of petrol stations locals had camels, decked out ready for tourists. As we went along, it was really difficult to work out what’s Israel, what’s West Bank, what’s off-limits behind walls. Huge walls snake along the hills and the Israelis say they’ve helped cut crime etc. It’s hard even for the locals, such as Shani our Jerusalem guide, who lives on a kibbutz near the north-east part of the Dead Sea—Jericho is very close to his kibbutz but he’s not allowed to go there, because it’s in Zone A.

As we drove down, the guide explained that the Dead Sea is shrinking, for a combination of reasons: less rain,

A person floating in the Dead Sea

A person floating in the Dead Sea

less water coming in from the River Jordan (because of dams), less drainage into the Sea, and more evaporation, much linked to various salts extraction. We also had to go on a detour, to skirt a huge sinkhole, one of many that have appeared due to the change in the Dead Sea levels.

The sea is so dense with salts that it’s basically impossible to actually swim in it— you can just wade in and then float on your back. The weather was a little chilly and very windy when we were there, so I couldn’t actually get in and test it for myself. But we did dip our hands in— the water feels sort of thick and a bit oily. Strange.

Welcome to En Boqeq resort area. Note the 3 languages used

Welcome to En Boqeq resort area. Note the 3 languages used

One of the huge resort hotels in En Boqeq

One of the huge resort hotels in En Boqeq

Health benefits of the Dead Sea. It has attracted visitors from around the Mediterranean for thousands of years. In the Bible, it was a place of refuge for King David, and was one of the world’s first health resorts, for Herod the Great. It has supplied a variety of products, from asphalt for Egyptian mummification, to potash for fertilizer. People also use the salt and the minerals to create cosmetics and herbal sachets.

At the Dead Sea resort area of En Bokek, where the conference was held, is a cluster of high-rise resort hotels with spas and special pools, and a series of small malls with a variety of cafes and shops for the visitors. Many of the flyers and signs are in another language, besides the usual three of Hebrew, Arabic and English: Russian. Apparently they get lots of Russian tourists and visitors (although the numbers are down right now due to the dip in the Russian economy), some of whom come for medical tourism. Our one tour guide told us that some Russian medical insurances will even cover some of these treatments!

Dear Sea herbs for sale---note the Russian language too

Dead Sea herbs for sale—note the Russian language too

Black Mud from the Dead Sea

Black Mud from the Dead Sea

Many of the shops sell all kinds of beauty and health products that have ingredients that come from the Dead Sea, and are supposedly very healthy—although one Israeli lady from the conference told me that there is very little empirical evidence to prove this claim. Supposedly, the salts are very good for skin ailments, like rashes, eczema and psoriasis, if you rub some of the water on the skin area. This very robust industry of salts, cosmetics, and creams etc is actually part of the problem affecting the health of the Dead Sea. There are conflicting interests between the tourist and industrial sectors and they are destroying what they depend on.

The local Regional Council, working with the Dead Sea Preservation

A typical shop sign

A typical shop sign

Government Company (with help from the Kingdom of Belgium and US Aid), is making an effort to try and stem this. They’ve set up information boards explaining the problems and have prepared a walking trail, on both sides of the Sea (Israel and Jordan), to help people appreciate unique natural features and heritage of the region (and then try to save it). I walked a bit of the trail and it’s fascinating to see what can grow here if it’s fostered, using the drip irrigation method. They say the desert landscapes of the Dead Sea have changed a lot over the last few decades, on both sides of the Sea, due to mismanagement of the Jordan River and Dead Sea ecosystems.

Greenery in En Boqeq

Greenery in En Boqeq

Looking down on the south part of the Dead Sea you can easily see some of the salt extraction ponds

Looking down on the south part of the Dead Sea you can easily see some of the salt extraction ponds

They also say that Israeli and Jordanian industries that intentionally aggravate the evaporation of water to harvest minerals are responsible for accelerating the yearly decline of the Dead Sea. Also, the evaporation process causes the annual accumulation of 20 cubic meters of salt residue at the bottom of the pools, which raises the seabed and water level, constantly threatening to flood the surrounding areas, especially in hotels and other infrastructures, like roads.

In short, a very real, serious problem. It’s a shame, as the area is gorgeous, and the Dead Sea such an unusual geographical feature.

The view from our hotel window---how gorgeous is that?

The view from our hotel window—how gorgeous is that?

 

 

Artist's sketch of the hippodrome in Roman times

Artist’s sketch of the hippodrome in Roman times

Ruins of the hippodrome today, unfortunately recently flooded by the Mediterranean

Ruins of the hippodrome today, unfortunately recently flooded by the Mediterranean

An animal panel, but note small human figures on the far right

An animal panel, but note small human figures on the far right

While touring in Caesarea, Israel, our guide Danny the Digger made a very interesting observation. We wandered through the ruins of the Roman city built by Herod the Great, including the hippodrome. On the lowest level of the seating stands, facing into the actual racing oval, Danny pointed out a series of mosaic panels with pictures. Many are animals, some are abstract. All are colorful and seemed designed to be seen by both the contestants and the viewers on the opposite side.

Danny mused that these might be the ancestors of our modern stadium advertising billboards. Fascinating concept! Seems like the Romans came up with everything.

An absract design

An absract design

animalcloser

Danny Hermann shows the group an inscription that mentions Pontius Pilate

Danny Hermann shows the group an inscription that mentions Pontius Pilate

Touring in Israel

Recently we were in Israel for a week and our hosts arranged a number of wonderful day trips. One was to Caesarea, the port city on the coast north of Tel Aviv that was largely built by King Herod the Great.

Our guide for our day trip to Caesarea was Danny Hermann, who calls himself Danny the Digger, as he is an archeologist. He started a PhD in archeology but didn’t finish as he got into guiding, and now he also teaches a course on tour guiding at a university.

Danny was a really good guide. He has an amazing amount of knowledge to impart and is passionate about his subject—the history and archeology of this land. He is Jewish, but talks equally easily about Christianity and the Islamic faith. He says he talks about biblical archeology, which is where you move from fiction to fact. We were very impressed as he handled a biggish group well; he stopped and waited for most people, spoke slowly and clearly and didn’t seem to be in a hurry. We would definitely recommend him.

Danny Hermann, info@DannyTheDigger.com, www.DannyTheDigger.com

Sarcophagus in Caesarea, Israel

Danny Hermann points out a feature on a sarcophagus

Danny Hermann points out a feature on a sarcophagus

Entrance to old Caesarea. Note the 3 languages---English, Arabic and Hebrew

Entrance to old Caesarea. Note the 3 languages—English, Arabic and Hebrew

Sarcophagus with garlands, whose carving was not completed

Sarcophagus with garlands, whose carving was not completed

Most of us have probably seen many examples of a sarcophagus (plural, sarcophagi) in museums around the world, and know that these are usually marble or stone above-ground burial coffins that were frequently used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. They were often elaborately embellished with some kind of sculpture and inscription.

When we were touring around old Caesarea in Israel recently we learned an interesting snippet of information from our guide Danny Hermann about the sarcophagi there.

 

Top of a sarcophagus that had been broken into (in spite of the Medusa head)

Top of a sarcophagus that had been broken into (in spite of the Medusa head)

Lady Medusa

Lady Medusa

Caesarea has had a long and complex history, part of which was rule by the Romans. King Herod built the port and named it after Caesar in Rome. We saw the remains of an arena, a hippodrome, Roman baths etc., and numerous sarcophagi. Danny Hermann explained that sarcophagus means “eater of flesh”. People at that time at first thought that if they placed a body in stone, the body would be protected from being eaten and from being robbed. Even though the dead body was placed in stone, when it came time to check the body, they found that the body had still been eaten (obviously by worms etc). So the story goes, that the coffin became known as a flesh eater. In addition, the coffins were often broken into and looted. So, those early people often carved the head of a Medusa on the coffin, for example, or other scary objects, to frighten off the eaters and the thieves.

Note other ruins of old Caesarea beyond the sarcophagus

Note other ruins of old Caesarea beyond the sarcophagus

But to no avail. The bodies still decomposed, and robbers still got in.

image
imageStellenbosch was founded by Simon van der Stel, the Governor of the Cape Colony, in 1679, who named it after himself. Stellenbosch means Stel’s bush. It’s in the Western Cape, about 50 km (35 miles) east of Cape Town, and on the banks of the Eerste River (First River, as it was the first river Simon van der Stel encountered when he ventured out of Cape Town). It’s the second-oldest European settlement in South Africa, after Cape Town. It’s also a great alternative to Cape Town—good hotels and restaurants, and gives easy access to the winelands.
It’s a university town—Stellenbosch University—and the campus is a big feature, so it has lots of cultural assets, such as the Sasol Art Museum. We saw many students, lots speaking Afrikaans, but not exclusively so.
It’s a pretty town architecturally in the Cape-Dutch style, the streets lined with many oaks, with lots of small shops, little plazas and alleys lined with cafes, art stores, old-book shops, unique fashions etc. The day we rambled around we found the people all very friendly and the atmosphere in town really nice and relaxed. However, there’s a fair bit of security around, such as in banks and outside public buildings. Many parking attendants, all in a uniform, walk around with portable meter machines.

image
imageThe city also favors public art on the streets, such as the Malay Girl (see https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/faces-malay-girl-by-lionel-smit/ ), the Mandela Wall outside the Town Hall (see https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/stellenbosch-sa-honoring-nelson-mandela/ ), and the Huguenot Wall outside the Public Library (see next post).
Stellenbosch, and most of the Western Cape, has a Mediterranean climate, plus hilly, well-drained soils, all of which are excellent for viticulture. Stellenbosch is part of the Cape Winelands, with Paarl and Franschhoek, and the South African wine industry has become world famous, producing really good quality wines.

Wine Discoveries: Israeli Wines

imageimage
imageISRAELI WINES
Our wine world opens up some more, as we make new wine discoveries

This is a pleasant surprise—and find—for us. We hadn’t heard much about Israeli wines, as it seems to be a fairly new industry (at least the more modern commercial one), but we shouldn’t be surprised as it is a Mediterranean country after all.
We are in Israel for a week, mostly for a Solar Fuels conference that Rod is participating in. It’s our first visit to this country and everything is new and different, including the wines. As you probably know by now, we are really interested in wines and wine making, and love to combine that interest with our passion for travel,image so we are always happy when the two come togIether.
The wines we tried in the first few days were really not bad— some even pretty good— especially the red blends. And then we did see some vineyards on the lower slopes of the hills as we drove from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and were told by our hosts that the Jerusalem Hills have good vines. And then we tried a couple of Barkan wines.image

It seems that the Barkan Winery is an up-and-coming one here in Israel. We tried the merlot, which was aged in oak for 18 months and became elegant and velvety. The grapes come from the vineyards in the Upper Galilee and the Jerusalem Hills, which are characterized by terra rossa soil, a cold/cool climate, and dry air. It was a rather mind-boggling experience to be drinking a wine with place names on the label like Galilee and Jerusalem— places we’ve always heard of, even if we’re not religious.
Another evening we tried the Eitan Assemblage (Barkan) with our Israeli hosts and everyone was impressed with this well-balanced wine (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and petit Verdot grapes). All the grapes are grown on the winery’s steep terra rossa terraces of their Kiriat Anavim vineyard, high in the Judean Mountains. That evening our group also tasted the Barkan special reserve Sauvignon blanc from the upper Galilee and were equally impressed with the white wine.
Our Israeli hosts are very proud to tell us that many Israeli wines do well at international wine shows and have won a number of big awards in blind tastings. That augurs well for the wine future here, and we look forward to tasting a whole lot more wines.
In the meantime, we have a couple more days and will try to pick out some other different wines from here.

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