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6 more months of reading

July 18th, 2012 3 comments

A year ago we started our move to Swaziland (it is tough to say what day we actually moved because it took us 72 hours to get from BG to St. Philips).  It has been a great year and the adjustments have been exceptionally smooth.  Some adjustments have been difficult (the heat, loss of electricity, poor internet access, being away from friends and family) while other have been incredible (touring Africa, working for a great organization, meeting wonderful people).  One of the adjustments I have absolutely loved is that I have been able to read much much more.

At the six month mark I had read 23 books (and posted my thoughts here).  Now that the year is over, my grand total is 41.  Here is what I read most recently and a few quick notes on them.

Auschwitz – This is a true account of a Jewish doctor who was employed at Auschwitz and the horrors he experienced.  Excellent reading but a very difficult subject matter.

Beneath the Neon – I heard the author of this book on NPR many years ago and had always wanted to read it and finally did.  It is the story of a journalist exploring the storm tunnels underneath Las Vegas.  It wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped.

Death by Meeting – A practical book about how to hold better meetings.  It was used when I was at Broadway and there are several concepts we can use at Cabrini.

Desert Solitaire – Just finished this book up tonight.  My father always held it high regard and I have enjoyed reading some of Edward Abbey’s other stuff.  It was a bit ironic to read it on an ipod since it is all about connecting with the earth, but that did not diminish the excellent writing.

Desperate Passage – A book about the Donner party.  It was a top seller on Amazon and a pretty good read.

Diamonds Gold and War – technically this one should not be on the list since I haven’t finished it yet, but it is a good historic account of how the British and Afrikaans established themselves in South Africa.  Pretty dense with a lot of names to keep up, but a good read.

Finding Amelia – I watched a show on history channel about Amelia Earnhardt and wanted to know more so I read the book.

Germs Genes and Civilization – Fascinating book on how disease has shaped civilization.  The author outlines some pretty significant ideas that are quite relevant since I literally live in culture that has been shaped by a disease.

Love and Death in the Kingdom of Swaziland – a story about the sisters who run Cabrini that primarily takes place during the first months we were in country.  You can find more information here.

Marine Sniper – An odd book for a pacifist to read, but it is an account of the sniper with the highest kill rate in Vietnam.

Particles and the Universe – Nerdy science book about sub atomic particles.  What can I say… I really dig that kind of stuff.

Physics of the Impossible – Similar to above in its subject matter but deals with quantum physics.  Both books filled my need to geek out on science

Rats – Dad read this book about rat colonies in NYC several years ago and we gave him a hard time, but I finally gave in and read it myself.  It was very enjoyable and well written.

Speaking in Tongues – I needed to read some fiction so I picked up this book by Jeffery Deaver.  Nothing special, but was an easy read.

Spook – This was the only Mary Roach book that I hadn’t read yet.  I love her writting, and while it was not my favorite of her books, it was still very good.

The case of the missing moon rocks – Free book on Kindle that I read quickly while flying all over the place in the states in March.

The Disappearing Spoon – A captivating book about the periodic table of the elements, its history and how the different elements have shaped the world.  Rather long, but I loved every page of it.  I just bought a book by the same author about how DNA and genes affect a variety of things.

Tipping Point – Interesting read about cultural trends, especially after reading Freakonomics.  Fun concepts to think about, but both books paint with too broad of a brush.

Triangle – Short story by Jeffery Deaver.  It was a great read before bed.

Looking back over the last 6 months of reading, I would give the title of "Best Read" to The Disappearing Spoon although Desert Solitaire comes in a close second.  And then, if I rank my top 5 books from the last year, I would put them in this order:

Categories: Reviews Tags: , ,

Product Naming Fail

July 17th, 2012 1 comment

I just put some Balls on my Salticrax and ate it…. it was good!

 

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In all honesty, both products are excellent; they just could have done a bit better with their naming.

Categories: Random Tags: ,

Hiking Execution Rock

July 1st, 2012 No comments

Anyone who has driven the Ezulwini corridor between Mbabane and Manzini in Swaziland has certainly taken note of the large precipice known as Execution Rock.  The mountain is officially known as Nyonyane Peak, but goes by the more sinister moniker because it is said criminals were historically forced off the edge at spear-point for their crimes.

Execution Rock
[View of Execution Rock from one of our previous trips]

Since coming to Swaziland, we have wanted to hike to the top, but it is one of those things where it is so close by, you never get around to doing.  Plus, there is notoriously little information on the internet about.  I knew the mountain was in the Mlilwane Game Reserve, and had heard there was a short route and a long route, but beyond that reports vary widely.  Some sites say the hike takes 6 hours and others say you can get there in 15 minutes.  But, we enjoy spending time at Mlilwane, so we decided to make a day out of it; if we got to the top of Execution Rock that would be great.  If not, then we would enjoy a relaxing game drive and other short hikes.

Mlilwane is a relatively small park, but most of it is criss-crossed with trails.  There are no large predators, but you are absolutely guaranteed to see zebra, warthogs, wildebeests and a wide variety of antelope variations.  Plus it is super cheap.  The entrance price for all three of us was supposed to be E75 (less than $10 USD), but we have a Wild Card that lets us get in free.


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[Execution Rock is the summit on the right, note the hippos on the island to the left.]

At the main gate I asked about hiking trails to Execution Rock and was told I would have to go to the Rest Camp to get a hiking map.  That is only a 3.5km drive, so it was no big deal.  Basically you leave a E10 deposit, let them know where you are going, and you get a wrinkled laminated map.  Here is a photo of the map to give you an idea of the hiking trails inside Mlilwane:

Mlilwane Hiking Map

As you can see, there are a couple longer routes that are possible which start around the Reilly’s Rock area.  We ran into a few other hikers while we were out and they said they were told it would take them 2.5 hours to get to the summit of Execution Rock from the lodge at Reilly’s Rock, but they were able to do it in about an hour and a half (they looked to be in pretty good hiking shape).  You can also see there is a much shorter route that starts most of the way up the mountain.  That is the route we decided to take.  We were told at the Rest Camp that that route takes about 15 minutes to hike.  It’s probably possible to do it in 15 minutes but It took us closer to 40 minutes with our toddler in tow.

The drive from the rest camp to the Nyakato viewpoint took us about 20 minutes to drive.  We had a large 4×4 truck and did the drive in the dry season so it really wasn’t a problem.  If you’re used to driving on mountain dirt roads, I think you could probably do it in any vehicle, but if it rained, I could see how it could get pretty sketchy.

At the Nyakato viewpoint there is a nice picnic table and the views really are incredible.  We could hear the drums from Mantenga Cultural Village and the views of Sheba’s Breasts (neighboring mountain) and down into the mid-veld were pretty incredible.

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[Aloe plants in the foreground, Sheba’s Breast in the background.]

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The trail was well maintained and easy to follow.  I would guess the walk was less than a mile from the trailhead to the summit (1.2 km).  Most it was gradual slopes although the last stretch required careful foot placement and an occasional hand on the ground.

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[Mikayla handled the trail just fine.]

The day we hiked Execution Rock, there were several wildfires burning so the valley was pretty smokey.  However, the views from the top were still incredible.

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[Summit!]

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[Don’t worry, she really isn’t as close to the edge as it looks.]

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[Looking up the valley towards Mbabane]

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[Down the valley towards Manzini]

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[Looking back towards the trailhead]

From the time we left the truck to the time we returned to it, it was probably about 2.5 hours.  The hike up Execution Rock was certainly not an epic journey, but it was a great day hike that you can complete start to finish in 3-4 hours including the drive up to the trailhead.

After the hike, we spent about an hour driving through the park before grabbing lunch at the rest camp.  We were there during the hottest part of the day, but we were still able to see quite a few animals:

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[The animals at the Rest Camp are pretty accustomed to people]

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[Mlilwane is known for its birdlife like this kingfisher.]

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[This is actually the first crocodile we have seen in Africa and it was HUGE.]

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Overall, it was an absolutely great day.  We ended it by eating at a new restaurant called Marimba’s in Manzini that specializes in African cuisine and it was excellent.  We were even able to throw in some grocery shopping and a stop at the airport and still make it home 12 hours after we left.

I am so glad we finally got that hike in.  Now we just need to make time for a few of the waterfall hikes in the highveld that we have been talking about doing.