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He Ain’t Heavy…

expat life Pretoria South Africa travel rhino conservation

A few months ago I saw this beautiful photo on Facebook, posted by The SanWild Rhino Sanctuary. I asked them the story behind the photo, and if I could share it with my readers. I knew the next time we went on holiday this would be my mid-week post.

expat life Pretoria South Africa travel rhino conservation
A rhinoceros jogging behind a bicycle? I had to find out more! This photo copyright (c) 2013. SanWild Rhino Sanctuary

Continue reading He Ain’t Heavy…

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The Big Five in Black and White

I haven’t met the family who created today’s guest post, but I follow their blog and enjoy their many engaging photos on their website, de Wets Wild. I wanted to share this striking post from their wildlife photography, and I hope you’ll take a moment to enjoy it and then check out their website for more amazing photos.

The Big-5 in Black-and-White


The “Big Five” is probably Africa’s most sought-after animals – the term was coined by colonial-era trophy hunters to describe the group of animals considered the most dangerous to hunt: Black Rhino, Buffalo, Elephant, Leopard and Lion. Today, these animals are a major reason for the popularity of South Africa’s wildlife reserves among locals and tourists from all over the world.






About de Wets Wild

We, Dries, Marilize and our son Joubert de Wet, have always had a great affinity for the wild outdoors and we’ve built our careers and family life around protecting, enjoying and showcasing the diverse natural heritage of the beautiful country we were blessed to be born in.

The de Wet family.
The de Wet family.

We’re pleased to meet you and hope we’ll see you around here often, to share our love for, and experiences in, South Africa’s spectacular wild places, from the smallest nature reserves to the biggest national parks, with us.

You can follow us via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter or your WordPress account and please, feel free to join in and share your thoughts with us!

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Conquering Africa: the ’59 way (by Wernher Hartzenberg)

Please enjoy this week’s variety of guest posts I’ve arranged for you while Kurt and I take our first trip to Cape Town.

I’m really excited for today’s post. I’ve been planning to post this ever since I met a remarkable man at the gym, Wernher Hartzenberg. I didn’t know his name yet. I only knew him as the first guy to be cool to me during my workout time in the testosterone-loaded free weights area. He will even take turns on bench and spot me if we’re working on upper body days at the same time. He was the one I mentioned (not by name) in a previous post, I Can Bench Press Your Mama.

When I finally had a chance to exchange more than hello, he had an astonishing story to tell about driving an old VW van from South Africa…to NORWAY! I’m sure you’ll find it as interesting as I do.

Be sure to check out his website, Aircooled Wonders, and read more adventures, check out their restorations or maybe just go rent one of their cool classic cars.

Conquering Africa: the ’59 way

-by Wernher Hartzenberg, of Aircooled Wonders

To tell the story of an extraordinary 1959 Volkswagen Kombi named Mabel, I’ll need to jump 40 years forward and start the telling with a newborn friendship between two young men, Wernher Hartzenberg and Espen Svensen. Both of us had one thing in common: the desire for adventure. We did not know at the time what impact this meeting would have on the rest of our lives and how we would both find respect for a vehicle that was once upon a time advertised as the people’s car.

It was 1999 and the first ever African Beetle Marathon was just the event to dip our toes into the river of adventure. Boy, would this little stream soon flow like a fearsome river through our veins.

Espen was born in Oslo, Norway. With his forefather’s Viking blood running strong, he decided it was time to see the world. He was so sure about his fate that he purchased a round trip ticket that would take him pretty much, well, around the world. Being an adventurer there would be no better place to kick it all off than in South Africa.

On the other side of the world, a young student, Wernher, was just getting ready to start his adult life. I was like most other South Africans, brought up with the mindset that once you finish your studies, it is time to face the real world, and that meant getting a 9-to-5 job. Luckily, I was young and also knew how to use my free time. That year’s summer break was going to be different; I was going to go BIG one last time.

On Sunday January 10th 1999, six teams set off on a journey that would take them through 5 counties and more than 7500km. Some of the teams showed up to race, but to my mind there was no point in rushing it. The first reason was that if I race through it all that would mean an early arrival, which in turn would mean that I would have to face the real world sooner. What 23 year old in his right mind would do such a silly thing? The second and main reason was that a lot of precious experiences would be lost. So 20 days it was going to be, which happened to be the cut off time and let’s face it, how fast could I really go in my grandfather’s 1959 beetle. Soon the racers were separated from the pacers and friendships started forming among the tail runners. This is how I met Espen and this is how a lifelong friendship started. Our two teams stuck together, especially on the second leg of this journey. We had started together, travelled together and finally finished together.

Espen enjoyed Africa so much that he substituted his ticket to see the world for a 1959 VW Kombi named Mabel. After soaking up the Southern African sun for 18 months, Espen decided it was time to visit home again. What better way to get to Norway than by taking an epic journey up the East Coast of Africa, then cross over to Europe and finally knock on Mom’s door in Scandinavia for a cup of hot chocolate? After a bit of preparation and a lot of butterflies, we left the southernmost point in Africa in May 2000.

We all know that life is what you make of it and this trip was no different. The first thing we realized was that “Africa Time” does exist.  The only way to make this clock tick is by doing what you can, where you are, with what you have.  So with that in mind we soon learnt how to obtain the optimal results out of people, nature, and Mabel of course.

An example of how this worked in our favour was when Mabel started coughing and crawling near the Ethiopian border. We had started that day by creating a path through a washed out section of road between Marsabit and Moyale (Northern Kenya). No one had passed through this section in 2 weeks. It took us 2 hours and a considerable amount of physical labour to clear a 50 meter stretch of road. It wasn’t only physical stress on our bodies that day, but a little emotional stress as well. While digging, moving rocks and pushing Mabel through the muddy water, we noticed a hand full of bandits, armed with AK 47’s, approaching in the distance. Naturally our work pace picked up and by the time they could even think of reaching us, we were gone. This, however, did not do Mabel any favours. Soon she started letting us know that something was wrong with her. We spent that night on the Moyale border. Early the next morning, we made an attempt to push on, trying to eventually reach Addis Ababa, 900 km away. This did not happen as planned and soon we found ourselves being towed by a Minister of Transport and his tractor-trailer and passengers. The first town after the border was Mega, which became our new home and workshop for the next few days. After taking the engine out and fixing what looked like valves that were starting to burn, we were on the road again, but without the result that we were hoping for. It turned out that, with our limited knowledge on these iconic cars, we had forgotten to check the petrol filter, which obviously got blocked while driving through the dust and mud.

We could only laugh at ourselves and, after some high fives, we were on the road again, a lesson well learnt.

Mabel did a superb job, taking us through 17 countries in just under 4 months. Sure, we got stuck in the soft Nubian Desert sand and also blew 3 tyres, while trying to keep up with the convoy on the rocky Kenyan roads. But that is why we did it, for the indescribable experiences. It was in this very same Nubian Desert that we saw the most beautiful sunsets, followed by nights under the pristine starry skies….. living the dream.

Mabel currently resides on a farm deep in the mountains of Norway. Espen is now happily married in Chile. As for me: South Africa is once again my home after 10 years of travel, where I still dream of one day seeing Mabel back in her rightful birthplace.

Managing our way through a washed out road.

Roadside assistance from the local ministry of transport in Southern Ethiopia.

Spending nights under pristine starry skies.

Crossing one of the few operational bridges in rural Ethiopia.


Two of my other favorite pieces by Wernher are his Kombi story and Beetle story:


About Wernher Hartzenberg

Writer and air-cooled car buff Wernher Harztenberg
Writer and air cooled car buff Wernher Harztenberg

I was pretty much born with cars in my blood. My grandfather bought his first new car ( Beetle) in 1959. It was passed onto my dad as his first car and then became my first car when I turned 18. My dad has also owned Porsche’s all his life and he is a huge influence on my passion for cars. I love to travel and in 1999 I did the first ever African Beetle Marathon in my 1959 Beetle. The marathon took us 7500 km around Southern Africa and through 5 Countries. Here I met my Norwegian friend Espen Svensen and in 2000 we traveled from South Africa to Norway in  a 1959 Kombi named Mabel. After Norway I ended up in Atlanta, GA and soon after Spartanburg, SC where I coached tennis for 9 years. In 2009 I moved back to South Africa and started collecting cars with my dad. I opened a workshop in 2010 where I restore classic Beetles and Porsche’s. I also started a website called Aircooledwonders where I try and capture the amazing history behind South Africa’s air cooled cars. I am also involved in a event called Kalahari Desert Speedweek, held at Hakskeenpan. It is the South African ” Bonneville”. I race a 356 Porsche.

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Meeting Jane Goodall: A Guest Post

expat life Pretoria

by Mary Vanhooser

Hello Traveling Marla readers! Marla went out on a limb this week and let me write a guest blog for you guys. I’m Mary, an American expat who has been living in South Africa for about 18 months. I moved here with my husband (Aaron) and 3 children (Parker, 8; Nathaniel, 6 and Taylor, 4) and began the greatest adventure our family has ever undertaken. We were able to experience some amazing outings recently and Marla asked if I would share them with you.

expat life Pretoria South Africa
My family. (c) 2013 Mary Vanhooser
We live in Pretoria, South Africa, one of the main cities in the most populous provinces here. So, there are lots of things to do if you know where to find them. Google and South African travel magazines have become my go-to when I have some free time. Through one of my searches, I found out about The Jane Goodall Institute and her South African Chimpanzee Sanctuary: This was also featured on Animal Planet as a reality series called Chimp Eden. It is about a 4-hour drive from our home and we haven’t made time to visit yet, but I became a fan on Facebook so I could cyber-stalk them until we could come out.
Last week, the sanctuary announced on Facebook that they still had tickets available to see the movie Chimpanzee at a casino only an hour from our house and that after the movie Jane Goodall herself would be doing a talk about chimpanzee conservation. I couldn’t let the opportunity pass! I quickly e-mailed that I would like 5 tickets.
meeting Dr Jane Goodall Pretoria, South Africa
Now, getting tickets to things here in Africa can be an adventure in and of itself. Often times, they don’t accept payment on-line or even via credit card and bringing cash to an event to pay is a no-no. So, you have to get creative. The Goodall Institute responded back the next day that 5 tickets were available but that I would need to pay via EFT, electronic funds transfer. Well, my US bank account doesn’t play nice with African banks 99% of the time, so I have to shlep down to the actual bank, get South Africa Rand from an ATM and then make a direct deposit of said cash into their account. Then you take a picture of the deposit slip and e-mail proof of payment. And of course save the slip to turn in once you arrive. A pain regardless, more of a pain when I have to drag 3 kids along for the exciting banking field trip, but for about $70 (all of which went directly to the sanctuary) we secured our spots.
expat life Pretoria
A typical transaction in the life of an expat: depositing South African Rand into a bank for a wire transfer to pay for events. (c) 2013 Mary Vanhooser
I felt the need to prep my kids about who Jane Goodall was. They were very excited to see Chimpanzee because that meant popcorn and soda, but they were not so sure about the talk. Luckily, we happened to have some great Zoobooks here that discussed Dr. Goodall and all the research she had done with the chimpanzees. I explained that she was a grandma now, not the young lady featured in the book, but that she still loved chimpanzees and wanted to help them. My 8-year-old daughter Parker was enamored with the idea of living in the rain forest! And all the kids seemed much more eager to learn from Dr. Goodall, plus one for having the right books on hand!
expat life Pretoria South Africa
The Zoobook.
I swear I have not been more excited for an African outing since we moved here. I remember reading about Dr. Goodall’s adventures in Tanzania when I was my daughter’s age. My mom got National Geographic and I remember reading all the articles about this crazy woman living with the chimps. I remember loving the idea of living in the rain forest and the solitude and quiet. I am an only child and the thought of living alone with the animals sounded like paradise.
I woke up early Saturday morning ready to go. The movie started at 2 p.m. and I had the whole family in the car at 12:45 for a 45 minute drive there. But, this is Africa, so of course we hit unbelievable traffic on the exit ramp, 1/2 mile from our destination. We hit traffic at 1:15. It was a fender bender on the bridge over the highway. There were cops there, but in Africa that just means cops were sitting in and on their police cars watching as traffic snarled around them. Not one of them took the initiative to direct traffic to help with the congestion. By the time we parked and were running inside, it was 2:15.
We had brought the Zoobook that discussed all the work Jane Goodall had done with us and I had planned to have her sign it. But, in all the craziness with traffic and being late, we left it in the car. I think I will always regret that. But, there was good luck too, the traffic had affected everyone and they had delayed the start of the movie so we didn’t miss anything!
expat life Pretoria
After the movie they led us into the outdoor amphitheater in the casino’s bird gardens. It is winter in South Africa and by the time we were seated it was after 4 p.m. and the sun was already setting. The temperatures were dropping and I began to worry about Dr. Goodall. She is now 79 years old and I was picturing this frail grandmother talking in the cold. I shouldn’t have had any concerns.
Once she took the microphone it was clear that even at 79, Jane Goodall is a woman to be reckoned with.
expat life meeting Jane Goodall Johannesberg South Africa
Dr. Jane Goodall speaking at Montecasino Bird Gardens. (c) 2013 Mary Vanhooser
Dr. Goodall gave an amazing speech. She began with her childhood and said that her mother truly created the scientist she became because her mother always encouraged her curiosity. She said at the age of 18 months she went to bed with a handful of earthworms from their garden. Instead of being repulsed, Jane’s mother quietly explained that the worms would die if they weren’t returned to the soil and took Jane outside so the worms would be safe. Jane said her first and clearest memory was of being a girl of 4 1/2 and visiting friends on a farm. The friends had a chicken coup and sent Jane to collect the eggs. Jane, a city girl from London, was fascinated, and asked where the eggs came from. No adults would tell her, so she took it upon herself to climb into the chicken coup and sit and sit and sit, waiting quietly without moving for more than 4 hours until finally she saw a hen actually lay an egg. She then went running to her now very worried mother and instead of being scolded for disappearing for 4 hours, was encouraged to tell the story of what she had discovered.
“Isn’t that just what a scientist would do?,” Dr. Goodall said. “Ask a question, not get the answers they want, go out to collect data through observation themselves and make their own conclusions.”
I will be striving to add the lessons from Dr. Goodall’s mother to my own parenting. I try my best to be patient and encourage my children’s curiosity but I lose it sometimes.
Dr. Jane Goodall speaking at Montecasino Bird Gardens near Johannesberg. (c) 2013 Mary Vanhooser
Dr. Jane Goodall speaking at Montecasino Bird Gardens near Johannesberg. (c) 2013 Mary Vanhooser
I must say that Dr. Goodall embodied everything you want from an environmentalist today. She is not a crazy person, hell bent on forcing her view on others. Instead she is very measured, very articulate and, despite decades of watching rain forest destruction and chimpanzee poaching, very hopeful. She said she must have hope because otherwise what point is there? Her speech was incredibly moving. She discussed how her team in Tanzania has engaged the local people to help with chimpanzee habitat protection and it has worked. 50 years ago they tried to do it without the local people and the people fought conservation, once they educated the people and asked for their help, the habitat loss reversed and it is now growing.
She spoke an hour in the cool evening standing the entire time and then stood longer to answer all the questions from her audience. Both of my daughters asked questions. My 4-year-old asked how old Dr. Goodall was when she moved to the rain forest and learned that Jane was 23 years old. My 8-year-old asked what it was like living in the rain forest and Jane said it was wonderful. So quiet except the sounds of birds and insects. Very green. Soft. I loved her description.
Dr. Goodall said the best way for anyone to help our world is to not focus on the big, but instead look at the small things we can do in our own families, neighborhoods, schools and towns. Small changes work and can scale up, but trying to change the whole world will just overwhelm us.
At the end of her speech she finally found a place to sit down, but stayed to personally greet anyone who wanted to talk with her. So, my whole family got to go down and shake her hand and thank her for her amazing service.
Meeting Dr. Jane Goodall. (c) 2013 Mary Vanhooser
Meeting Dr. Jane Goodall. (c) 2013 Mary Vanhooser
She told the kids about her program called Roots and Shoots ( I am going to contact the South African chapter and try to get something started at their school here.


expat life Pretoria
Vanhooser children and Dr. Jane Goodall at Montecasino Bird Gardens. (c) 2013 Mary Vanhooser
Even at nearly 80, Dr. Goodall said she still travels about 300 days out of the year. If she ever happens to do an event in your neighborhood, jump at the chance to attend. I will remember meeting her the rest of my life and I hope the meeting had some impact on my children.
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The Moment You Become a Different Person Abroad

guest post blog Traveling Marla South Africa move

By Kayla (Keyla? Keila? Teila? Kebar?) Washko

                Identity seems to become more fluid when you live abroad. The exact moment that you begin to change is hard to pinpoint—perhaps it’s when you learn to barter at the local market, or finally decide to face your fear and go bungee jumping or white water rafting for the first time. Or perhaps it isn’t so tough to pinpoint after all. Maybe it happens the first time (or many times) someone says or spells your name incorrectly. Continue reading The Moment You Become a Different Person Abroad

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Only “A Few Years”: A Goodbye Post

guest post blog Traveling Marla South Africa move
guest post blog Traveling Marla South Africa move
Me and my beautiful granddaughter, Adeline

Hello everyone.  My name is Jeff, Marla’s older, and only, brother.  I wanted to help out with my sister’s dilemma of not having enough hours in her days to get all of the things ready for her move to R.S.A. and still fill some blog spots for those of us who “need to get a life” because we grow too impatient waiting on her next post!

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Kurt & Marla in Florida. This goodbye isn’t going to be like the others.

While I don’t presume to be able to fill the need for all, I will at least give her something to post so that all her readers have even more reason to desire her return to the podium!

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Kissing a crayfish at Adeline’s first birthday party (Don’t ask…she’s weird.)

I really could not think of anything interesting to write about, I’ve always been the type of guy quick with the “snappy comebacks” and the sarcastic remarks, quite a lot of fun in the short term, but irritating to be around for any length of time.  My sisters can both attest to this, as I was definitely not one of those “big brother” types. As I remember it, I spent most of my youth making life Hell for both of my younger sisters; probably more so for my sister Wendy than I did Marla, but I did have five more years with Wendy to figure out all of her “buttons”. Continue reading Only “A Few Years”: A Goodbye Post

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Drinking Like the Trophy Wife of an Oil Tycoon

guest post blog Traveling Marla South Africa move
guest post blog Traveling Marla South Africa move
Turkish food. (Photo credit: Doggy’s Style)

The blog name is Traveling Marla right?

So I’ll stick to the theme, see, I promised Marla I wouldn’t get her blog closed by picking touchy subjects like public exposure. (I had a great post about public exposure.)
Anyhow, I’m gonna tell you about my last trip to Turkey, lovely country.
It was a little over a year ago, plans were going to Syria, but things in Syria were not ideal at the moment so we decided to go to Turkey instead.
We were there for a month.
The minute we arrived and took the subway to our hotel we knew it was not what we thought it’d be. Continue reading Drinking Like the Trophy Wife of an Oil Tycoon
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The Joys of the Unpublished Writer: Figuring it All Out

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Hello, Traveling Marla readers! Marla asked her guest posters to take over her blog and make it ours. But truthfully, if I had control over Marla’s blog, I wouldn’t change a thing. Let’s be honest here: really only Marla can write her blog, because it is such a lovely reflection of the unique person she is. Also, I am just not brave enough to go work out on Muscle Beach, though I love reading about it when Marla does.

So instead I picked the most Marla-ish post from my own blog to share, which is still really not very Marla-ish at all. Most notably, there are no pictures of me with very interesting expressions on my face. But it is a post about writing. And obsession. That might be as close as I can come. Hope you enjoy, poor substitute for Marla that it is!


The joys of the unpublished writer:  figuring it all out

In the last month or so, I’ve written at least two and a half short stories that center around the same, basic situation. I finish one story and then get that feeling. You know that feeling? The feeling that your story is like deeply uncomfortable clothes and it just doesn’t feel right? I imagine that with a little more time, I will have a book-length collection of short stories, all dealing with the same basic theme. Am I stuck? No. I’m figuring things out.

The characters you know

Writers are often asked, “So which character is really you?” Continue reading The Joys of the Unpublished Writer: Figuring it All Out

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If a man is attacked by his tent in the forest, should he make a sound?

guest post blog Traveling Marla South Africa move

By Ned Hickson/Ned’s Blog/Siuslaw News

guest post blog Traveling Marla South Africa moveOur family loves to go camping. In fact, we make sure to get out and pitch our tent — without fail — once a year.

Traditionally, this takes place during the busy Memorial Day Weekend so that as many people as possible can witness a 46-year-old man being attacked by his own tent.

In my defense, I have to say our tent is very large; especially when it is laying flat on the ground.

If I hadn’t lost the step-by-step instructions that came with it, I’m sure the assembly process would be a lot easier because, as a man, I could use them to, step-by-step, blame everything on having lousy instructions.

What this means is that over the Memorial Day Weekend my handiwork will again be mistaken for a hot air balloon that has crash-landed into our family’s camp site. Continue reading If a man is attacked by his tent in the forest, should he make a sound?

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Turtle Fear and the Reluctant Animal Rescue

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The Fourth of July. 2010.

It was mid-afternoon, so the streets weren’t super jammed yet, but they would be soon.

I was doing a couple things around my apartment, just cleaning up, and I grabbed the full bag of garbage in my hands to take it out to the back alley. I slipped on my shoes and walked down the front steps to walk through the narrow walkway between my house and the house next to mine. As I’m heading back to the alley, I look down to realize that I was almost about to step on a turtle. A gross, ugly, foreign turtle. I screamed like a little girl, and I turned around and retreated back inside, garbage still in my hand.

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This is a soft shell turtle. It’s like somebody slapped a pancake on a four-legged snake. {shivers}

Continue reading Turtle Fear and the Reluctant Animal Rescue