Shopping Around the World

I discovered all these handmade gifts a couple of years ago at various local fairs. Even if you’re at home this holiday season, buying and giving gifts made by people in other countries brings the world to you and helps the artisans who make them as well. Happy shopping!

Snapshots and Sojourns

Where did you go this holiday season? I stayed near home the month of December but went shopping around the world and bought several gifts handmade by women and children in places like Sri Lanka, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, and Thailand. Each item made me pause and smile, and I have no doubt, they made the recipient feel good, too.

I oohed and awed at jewelry made in the Philippines and in India from genuine pearls. Pearls with Purpose was created to instill self-sustainability and hope in women throughout the world.

I smelled the candles and admired the containers at Prosperity Candle, a company whose mission is to “empower women to rebuild their lives through candle making, one gift at a time.” After training women as candle making entrepreneurs in Baghdad, the company began working with Burmese and Bhutanese women refugees living in Massachusetts. If you buy a candle, you…

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An Insight into Lesotho

Visiting a place and getting to know its people makes the world smaller and increases our sense of community, even when that place may be far away. Or at least it does for me. My family visited the tiny country of Lesotho (pronounced li-soo-too) just three years ago.

Highway in Lesotho

So last week, when I heard of Lesotho’s attempted military coup, I could picture the people and the place, a country where over 90 percent of the women are literate, according to UNESCO, but half the population lives below the national poverty line, and 40 percent of the people suffer from malnutrition.

Village People

Lesotho housing

For more photos and travel stories of our trip to Lesotho, check out these blog posts:

Adventures in LesothoSleeping in LesothoEating in LesothoOrphans in LesothoVisiting Our Sponsored Child in Lesotho, and Washing Clothes by the River.

Trip taken August 2011.

Renting a Home Away from Home

When planning a vacation away for more than a few days, consider renting an apartment or cottage instead of staying at a hotel. While the service may be lacking, you’ll gain freedom to cook your own meals and explore your destination more like a resident than a tourist.

We’ve rented a house in Bolinas, California; an apartment in Cape Town, South Africa; and a cottage on Plum Island near Newburyport, Massachusetts. In all three cases, we stayed near the ocean, in comfortable lodging, for a reasonable price. In all three cases, we used to rent a place directly from its owner. Cape Town Apartment

Bolinas: Although the tiny house was bursting with our party of four adults and four kids, the deck allowed us space for overflow. We stocked the kitchen with our own favorite foods and took over the kitchen and grill; we jogged along the cliff nearby and throughout the local neighborhood; we drove to the local market, walked the beach, and ate out at a nearby restaurant.

Cape Town: Located between the ocean and the local markets, our two-bedroom apartment in Sea Point was full of books, DVDs, local artwork, and maps of the area. We caught the bus at the end of the road and walked into town for groceries. Cape Town  Artwork   Sea Point

Plum Island: Just outside our front door, a sandy path led to the beach. We ate mussels at the local restaurant before riding our bikes back to the cottage to cook our own fresh pasta. Although we spent little time inside, the cottage was comfortable and well equipped with movies and music to enjoy in case of bad weather. Plum Island Cottage

While we’ve had good luck and much success with our rentals, things can go wrong. In Cape Town, we arrived after a long trip to discover a bathroom without toilet paper. After knocking on our neighbors’ door, we borrowed a roll before venturing to the nearest local market to stock up. Each time we rent, we learn a little more to consider before we rent the next time. Things like:

  • What is the minimum stay?
  • Does the price include a cleaning fee?
  • What type of deposit is required and is it refundable?
  • Are pets allowed?
  • Are other guests allowed?
  • Do you need to bring linens?
  • How will you get the key?

The next time you’re looking for a place to stay with a little more character and a lot more flexibility than the Days Inn or the nearby Hilton, consider checking out VRBO, its parent company, or one of their competitors. After your experience, you’ll feel almost like a local!

Trips taken 2007, 2009, 2011.

When Traveling, Remember the Moscow Rule

While traveling in Paris many years ago, my American friends introduced me to the Moscow Rule. Not to be confused with the Moscow Rules, this rule has to do with shopping and souvenirs and is fairly simple. If you see something, buy it, because you may never see it again.

My friends told me that this rule originates from people standing in line in Moscow. If you lived in Moscow under Communist rule and saw people standing in line, you joined them, because whatever they were waiting for you most likely needed or would need and you may not have the opportunity to buy it another time.

Although I try to remember this rule when I travel, the times I forget are the times I regret. Like the time I didn’t buy the metal toy truck in Cape Town because I knew we’d see several more during our trip (we didn’t).


Or when I didn’t buy a drum and then had to resort to the airport gift shop. Or when I passed up a pretty necklace at a price I saw quadrupled in future stores.


Sometimes it’s easy to remember, like buying Lindt chocolates in Zurich, wool scarves with the family clan in Edinburgh, or maple syrup in Vermont. I find it more difficult to remember when I see something different. Is it something I truly want? Is the price a good one? Will I see it again?

Maple Syrup

To prevent those post traveling blues, remember the Moscow Rule: if you see something unique, something you’re unlikely to find online or anywhere else, snatch it up, because you may never see it again. Most likely, you won’t regret the purchase, and the memories it holds will bring smiles for a lifetime.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizon

Horizon. The space or line where the sky meets the earth. 

On the road near Royal Natal National Park, South Africa.

On the road near Royal Natal National Park, South Africa.

According to Franklin Roosevelt, “We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.”

Cahoon Hollow Beach, Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

Cahoon Hollow Beach, Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

Emigrant Wilderness, near Yosemite National Park, California.

Emigrant Wilderness, near Yosemite National Park, California.

Perhaps that’s why I love to travel. To see beyond my own boundaries, to meet new people and encounter new places, to experience life from a different angle.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Upper West Side, New York City.

Upper West Side, New York City.

Ducks in a Tree

Have you ever seen a duck in a tree? Or penguins on the beach or an ostrich by the side of the road? Have you ever felt the winds of a Southeaster? On the west coast of South Africa we experienced all as we made our way to the Cape of Good Hope, not the southern most tip of Africa.

In South Africa’s winter, we experienced a “Southeaster” as we were blown by Cape Town gusts at least 60 miles per hour on our first afternoon in Cape Town. We walked along Sea Point’s ocean front promenade, the sun warm but the winds strong.

We meandered the paths of Cape Town’s Kirstenbosch Gardens, beautiful botanical gardens at the foot of Table Mountain, where we discovered grasses, bushes and flowers different from those on our own continent, aloe plants blossomed and ducks stood in trees.

Just south of Simon Town on our way to the Cape of Good Hope, we photographed penguins on the beach, wishing the sun was warmer so we could join them for a swim.

We greeted ostriches by the side of the road in Cape Point.

And we took photos of the Cape of Good Hope even though we learned it is not the southernmost point of Africa (Cape Agulhas located 90 miles east-southeast gets the honor).

Trip taken in August 2011.

Stalking Cats and Injured Lions

We found her in the tall grasses, moaning and crying out to her pride. She was injured and alone after the previous night’s hunt. She called again, but we heard no response. She endured our stares and the clicks of our cameras before slowly rising and moving to another place in the grass. We could see the gash on her left hind leg from the cape buffalo’s horn and noted how often she licked her lips.

We visited her twice that day, sad to see she hadn’t moved, wondering if she’d make it. Our ranger told us she was 14 years old and near the end of her life span (African lions live 13 to 25 years). That night we heard her cries answered by others, and when we encountered the lions on a game drive the next morning, there she was, moving slowly, but walking, following the other lions in her pride, her children (two female lions) and grandchildren (eight male cubs).

In the back of the open land rover, I watched the stalking cats and trotting cubs, obviously on the prowl, a herd of cape buffalo nearby. We drove quickly through the bush, trying to stay ahead of the lions, through acacia thorns and branches, and straight down a steep bank full of sticks, bushes, briars, thorns, and trees to the dry river bed. As we reached the sandy bottom, holding on tight as we twisted and turned, leaning the opposite way, we got stuck. Our wheels spun as we saw the lions chasing a buffalo and heard the kill. We sat tight in the vehicle, not daring to get out of the truck with lions so nearby.

After being pulled out of the sand by another land rover, we caught up to the cubs and their grandmother and photographed them hanging out, waiting for a signal from the two lionesses who’d made the kill. A few hundred feet away, we found the hunters at the beginning of their meal. We parked and sat still, except for the movement of our cameras, watching as the lions and later the cubs, tore open the belly of a young cape buffalo only a few feet away. We listened to the sounds of their teeth chewing through the hide and smelled the fermenting contents of the victim’s stomach. The lions ignored us, used to the dark green trucks and the silhouette of the people inside.

“Uh-oh,” one of the women in our vehicle said as the grandmother lion began walking straight toward us. But Moses, our ranger, wasn’t worried. “She’s just looking for shade,” he said. And, sure enough, she lay down in the shade our truck provided, only inches from the truck and the people in it.

We left her and the others, still enjoying their meal, and headed back to the water hole near the lodge reaching it just before a large herd of cape buffalo arrived and wallowed in the water, looking for a drink.

Videos on this post by Tommy Taft on trip taken in August 2011.

Sleeping in a Tree House

It was dark, so dark that we couldn’t see anything beyond the truck’s headlights, only the faint outlines of the dam and Umlani’s tree house, our home for the night.

The moon had not yet risen, and the stars were not yet bright. Hendrick stopped the truck and scoped out the area first before he would let us out. He climbed up the tree house ladder and shone his big flashlight around the tree and the platform. When all was clear, he warned us, “Don’t leave the tree house. If you do, and a lion or a leopard is nearby, something bad could happen.” Hendrick’s tone was serious; he did not smile or joke. Equipping us with a radio and spot lamp, he waited while we climbed up the steep ladder; the girls to the first floor, boys to the second. Then he left, and the night was silent.

I sat on the wooden platform and listened and strained to see as my son pointed the spot light around the dam. Nothing but a flash of white. A bird on the water’s edge. I was scared of what I could not see or hear. Only hours earlier, in daylight and with a guide, we’d seen elephants at this very dam and lions not too far away. And rhinos, too, and cape buffalo and hyena. At least a half a mile from the lodge, we were out in the bush, in the Timbavati National Reserve in South Africa.

The moon rose, and we listened to the lions calling to each other across the bush, interrupted only by birds. I peered intently but could only see trees and bushes shadowed against the sky and the land. After an hour or so of watching and listening to the night’s blackness, we settled down to sleep on mattresses with sheets and comforters and pillows all enclosed in white mosquito netting. Or rather everyone else slept and slept well. I awoke at 1:30 a.m. and listened and peered through the tree house boards at the sky. I crawled out from under the netting and sat on the wooden floor but only for a moment, before I crept back to the false security of my enclosed bed.

Two hours later I awoke again, this time determined not to miss a sound or a sight. Wrapping myself in a blanket, I sat outside my bed and watched and listened. Not seeing anything and hearing only the piercing calls of the birds, I wished then that our guide was with us, to identify the sounds of the night. I listened and reveled in the experience, my eyes wide open.

When I woke my sleeping family just before sunrise, my daughter said in surprise, “We made it!” The four of us watched the bush reappear in the rising sun’s light, eventually hearing the sounds of the truck coming to pick us up.

Moses, our ranger called up to us, “Hurry, the lions are nearby.” We grabbed our things and scurried down the ladder, eager to begin another safari.

Trip taken in August  2011.

Lions at Night

Back from another game drive, I warmed my hands on a mug of tea. Others were drinking wine; the kids, hot chocolate. We sat around a fire in a boma or enclosure, waiting for dinner to be served at the game lodge.

Conversation was interrupted as the land rovers returned. The lions were on the hunt. Would we mind being late for dinner? Adrenaline rushing, I left my drink behind, ran to the trucks and hopped on the one in front. I covered my lap with a wool blanket as others clambered aboard with me. As we drove away, I saw the rest of my family in the truck behind.

The drive was fast and brief, the lions were near the rangers’ camp. We stopped short, and as our driver, Ginger, shone the spotlight around the bush, we saw only the hunt’s aftermath, a hyena hanging out; a lion licking its paws, bloody from the cape buffalo who got away; a few cubs playfully running in the dark.

Our hearts pounding, we returned to the lodge, wishing for more, but happy with the thrill. As I jumped off the truck and began walking into the boma, I was stopped. Rhinos were spotted in camp while we were gone. I needed a chaperone and a flashlight.

Escorted to our hut, we grabbed what we needed then headed back for dinner, hearing the sounds of hyenas on our way. Exhilarated, we sat on benches around big tables, sharing food and wine with guests from Australia and London and locals who work at the lodge. Laughter and stories were easy that night, and we slept well, ready for another day of adventure on safari.

Photos on this post by Tommy Taft on trip taken in August 2011.