Friday, October 18, 2013

Zoo Trot

As if redoing our patio and taking the dogs for a run every weekday morning at 5:45am weren't enough activity, Kelsey decided last weekend that we'd participate in the monthly "Zoo Trot." No, this isn't a case of animal-vectored diarrhea, but rather a 5k (or 10k) road race through the Johannesburg Zoo. Now, I know what you're thinking - - "isn't it HOT in Johannesburg now?" - - but rest assured we never overheated because this race starts at 7AM! ON A SUNDAY! Yup, it's enough to give you the zoo trots.

Here's Kelsey with the rest of the masochistic nitwits silly enough to register before 7am!

Joining us in the trot was our friend Charné, a veteran of several nightime Zoo Trots.

Charne' and Kelsey signing up for race information. Apparently if you complete three Zoo Trots, you get a medal of some sort.

Since we got there plenty early, we had a chance to explore the Elephant Enclosure...

And tell Father Gorilla what we wanted for Christmas (hint, send us Sri Racha)

And we're off! Into the blinding 7:30am sun!

Hey ladies, SLOW DOWN! Can't you read the sign??

These two finished well ahead of us, so I can't make fun.

One of the coolest parts is running along the walkway that goes through the Lion Enclosure. Somewhere in this shot, there is a lion. It seemed much bigger and closer at the time.

Dang. Photobombed in front of the Eland area.

An exciting photofinish!....and the winner on the day? The Zoo Charity, which netted about $2500 worth of donations. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sundays River

A few weeks ago, my friend and fellow palaeo-dork Roger Benson and his lovely wife Hilary came to visit from Oxford, UK. We planned a trip down to the Eastern Cape, with the goal of finding plesiosaur fossils (kind of like the Loch Ness monster, but real and now extinct).

On our 700 mile drive down from Johannesburg to the Sundays River Formation (which preserves the plesiosaur fossils), we stopped to look at some dinosaur outcrop. Here we are collecting volcanic ashes.

And here's our accomodation while we collected those ashes, a beautiful rustic farmhouse made out of local stone. No, that's not Kelsey but rather Hilary tending the beer cooler.

Roger, Hilary, and the butt of my graduate student Blair collecting volcanic ash.

After a day of collecting volcanics, we headed south for a week of looking for plesiosaurs. The Sundays River Formation preserves a series of rocks that represent a 140 million-year-old tidal estuary, leading into deeper offshore waters. Interestingly, similar systems are still present on the Eastern Cape today. Coastal erosion has made these outcrops especially beautiful.

In addition to being the land of plesiosaur fossils, the Eastern Cape is also the land of Aloe and the land of Dairy Cattle.

Many of the Sundays River fossils are found in abandoned brick quarries like this one. It's funny that we had so much trouble finding bricks for our patio (see our other blog post) given that this quarry must have furnished the entire continent of Africa with bricks. 

Of course, not all the quarries are abandoned.


No trip to the Eastern Cape is complete without a stop at my favorite butcher shop in Kirkwood (proprietor Jan Swart). Best chili bites in South Africa.

And then again, no trip to the Eastern Cape is complete without a stop at the Kirkwood Cliffs for a cocktail and some fossil prospecting.

Our spirits renewed, we visited yet another brick quarry, and began splitting shale to find fossils.

Success! This plant fossil is among the first known from deep-water deposits of the Sundays River.

The ubiquitous oyster still never fails to disappoint. This is a form of Gryphaeia, which probably would have gone well with a bit of champagne or a shot of tequila.

Best of all, however, were the exceedingly rare crayfish. This beauty was found by my friend Cameron Penn-Clarke.

We wrapped up our fossil trip by taking a few hours off to view the wildlife at Addo National Elephant Park

This fellow is a Leopard Tortoise, a common park resident. A famous member of this species who lived in the park was named "Domkrag" (Car-Jack). He weighed in at 134 pounds and was famous for rubbing up against car tires. 

Other pleasant wildlife included this Cape Weaver....

But of course, you're all waiting to see ELEPHANTS! This little guy kept putting his trunk on other members of his family, as if to say hello.

And thus ended our Sundays River trip. No plesiosaurs, but many elephants and one hell of a crayfish.

The Patio Project

As you all know, we've struck a deal with our landlords. They've agreed to foot a portion of the bill for a new brick patio out back, and we've agreed to install it (and foot the better portion of that bill). Now you all know that Jonah cannot do anything "just a little bit," and you've probably heard about the "KL GLENNON 1000 BRICK CHALLENGE," but we thought we'd give you the full story here in one abridged version.

Step 1: Buy lots of rocks. Have them dumped in the street so your neighbors think you're jerks. This will encourage you to move said rocks.

Step 2: Enlist help of slave labor (i.e., grad students) to help move embarrassing rock pile. Provide slave labor with housing for far too long in repayment.

Step 3: Make sure drainage is good. Even though it never never never never rains in South Africa. Ignore comments from dogs, as they know nothing about drainage.

Step 4: Instead of spending lots of money on tamping machine, buy 6-pack of local swill and entice graduate student to use Flintstones-era technology to perform duties tamping machine could do in less than 15 minutes.

Step 5: Admire hole filled with rocks, the product of a weekend's heavy labor.

Step 6: Use ridiculous quantity of remaining rock to address marginally important landscaping issues around home.

Step 7: "Break in" expensive tool to excavate dinosaurs. This is necessary because there was a row of bricks that would not match our new section. "Break" new tool on third use. Be glad of one year warranty.

Break time! Mawazo's wife, Olivette, came to visit that Saturday. She works in Pretoria and it was lovely to get a chance to meet her. They are both wonderful people. We look forward to visiting them in Malawi one day.

Step 8: Back to work, squatting grad student! Sweep that sand between those bricks. 

Step 9: Admire your handiwork, preferably with a Tafel in hand. Cry when you realize that you're only halfway finished. Get another Tafel.

Step 10: Rise at 5:45AM, get to work digging at 6:30am. Use "broken" jackhammer to prepare ground for lots of shoveling.

Step 11: When sufficient dirt is relocated around yard, apply landscape fabric. Midas & Mella are resident experts on this fabric. They've removed lots from the upper section due to insufficient application.

Break time!

Break time is NOT OVER YET.

Step 12: Lay bricks with canine assistance. They are experts and lazy grad students finally moved out.


Midas never really takes a break. He oversees all garden activities.

Yay! We're finished! It's not even noon!


Step 13: Admire patio from inside the house.