Friday-Saturday, August 23-24
Friday we returned to the Tygerberg Mall to pick up our airline ticket changes, then headed east through the mountains to our next destination, the Leeurivier Guest House near Bonnievale in the Overberg (over-the-mountain) region. The mountains, jaggedly dramatic from our flat in Belleville, were even more scenic when traveling through them. They are very old mountains, formed of ancient seabed sediments tipped, twisted, and contorted, then eroded, into fantastic forms. We bypassed part of the scenery by taking the very long Huguenot tunnel (it was probably 2 km long), since taking the old winding scenic road would have added too much time to our trip.
About an hour out we stopped in Worcester, a pleasant wine valley town, and walked around the downtown a bit getting visitor information, cash, and lunch, and strolling through a grassy park with an unusual stone and water war memorial. Then we visited the nearby Karoo Botanic Garden, the only SA Botanic Garden devoted primarily to succulents. It was a very interesting landscape to wander about in, with some succulent trees that were positively Dali-esque. The day was getting almost hot (a relief, really, after all the cold). Unfortunately the plants were not labeled, and the map we got was virtually useless unless one was planning to take one of the longer hikes into the hills, which would have been nice, but we didnt have time.
Part way to Leeurivier we took a detour to get groceries in Montague, the only town on the way with a real grocery store. For the first time we began to feel like the minority white people are here - unlike multicultural Cape Town, this was primarily a black town. The drive there was through a particularly spectacular mountain pass, and part of it was called, for good reason, legoland. The erosion and cracking of the sedimentary rocks which had been turned on their sides created whole landscapes of block-like formations.
We arrived at Leeurivier just after five, to be welcomed by our hosts, Johannes and Ansie. The house we were renting was just across the yard from their farmhouse, and turned out to be by far the most spacious place we had stayed in. It was an old farmhouse, with a large kitchen complete with indoor braai, separate pantry and large kitchen table, an even larger living room, three bedrooms and an enclosed porch. It could have comfortably slept 11 people! The drawback was, the only source of heat was the braai in the kitchen, and the extreme cold snap was continuing here. So we virtually camped out in the kitchen until bedtime, then huddled under the plentiful covers until late in the morning after the sun was well up. The water was also odd, peat-colored, and we drank rainwater from a large tank, but used the natural water for washing. The streams in the area were the same color - something in the surrounding soil or vegetation, no doubt.
Leeurivier is a farm, with cows, chickens, dogs, a beaten-up tomcat named Simba who very much wanted to move in with us (he was very sweet, but on Ansies advice we kept him out, mostly), and many outbuildings. The surrounding hills are semiarid scrub, punctuated by frequent streams and the accompanying surge in vegetation. It was very peaceful, a pleasant change after the city, and after dark, under crystal-clear skies, we really saw the southern hemisphere stars for the first time. The Milky Way spanned the sky, brighter than Rich or I could remember seeing it before; Emily had never seen it this way at all, nor Colin, of course. Mars, nearing its closest approach to the Earth in 60,000 years, glistened orange near the horizon, and dozens of other stars shone brightly against the more general background. We have yet to find a practical guide to the southern hemisphere stars, so we didnt recognize any constellations, alas, though we looked for Orion, which should be visible.
Saturday warmed up quickly as soon as the sun rose over the hills, so we determined to hike into the hills. Johannes would have given us a guided tour to a nearby indigenous forest, but his whole family was going to be in town all day for a major inter-school rugby match his two teenage boys were playing in. However he had said a track up from our house went into the hills, so we headed up that way. It was sometimes a rutted road, sometimes no more than a narrow cow path, and often muddy and full of hoof prints from the recent rains. It was a lovely day and pleasant walk, over rolling hills backed by the more jagged, not-too-distant mountains, whose buttressed, sprawling bases rose like sleeping elephants from the fields. We didnt encounter anything amazing, but saw many pretty flowers in small quantities, several birds, and many gigantic green grasshoppers, the largest of which, most likely a female, was about 5 long and too heavy to fly!
We stopped for lunch at the top of a ridge which had a single tree to provide a bit of shade, and had our one exciting moment. Colin and I were sitting under the tree, Rich was on the other side of the meadow playing at Sound of Music against the mountains, and Emily was in between us munching her sandwich. Suddenly she ducked and began to run towards Rich, and I saw that she was right in the path of a large swarm of bees, which swept over the hill for 30 seconds or more. Fortunately she wasnt stung - they were no doubt swarming for a new hive. We had been warned that the South African bees tend to be aggressive, and not to swat at them. If they had started stinging her, I hate to think what might have happened. She seems to be having bad bee karma on this trip - getting stung at Hidcote Gardens, too - but this time was OK. Unfortunately there is nothing we could have done to predict or prevent it - the bees were not there, then they were, then they werent.
That afternoon we drove into Swellendam, the largest nearby town, but found that in this town everything not only closed up early in the day on Sunday (as we had discovered in Blaauberg), but on Saturday, too. One thing that was open and looked interesting for the kids was the Fairy Sanctuary, so we visited it. Behind a tall fence was a shady garden filled with fairy figures and other pretty things, and run by a fluttery lady who wouldnt have been out of place in the hippier parts of Eugene or Santa Cruz. We wandered around for awhile, and browsed the extensive gallery where more fairy things were for sale. Amusingly, Emily had been worrying a loose molar, and it popped out while we were here - we figured the Tooth Fairy must have been present!
After that we had an early dinner at Da Vagabond restaurant, sampling some fairly unusual dishes, since the proprietress was Belgian and the restaurant served South African cuisine.
Sunday - Wednesday, August 25 - 28
The Klein Karoo
Sunday was time to depart already. After saying our goodbyes to our hosts, and Simba, we drove through the rugged Klein Karoo (Little Karoo, an arid region between the Great Karoo desert to the north and the coastal plain to the south) to the Red Stone Hills Holiday Farm near Oudtshoorn. Quite by chance, since I hadnt known much about the place when I booked it, this turned out to be in the most scenic region we had yet visited. The Red Hills are so named for their color, of course, and their geology is quite different from the surrounding terrain, too. Apparently millions of years ago when the whole area was an inland sea, something made a really big splash (a meteorite, perhaps) and sloshed hundreds of feet of rocky, red mud up against the surrounding mountains. There it hardened and eroded into fantastical shapes, and the Red Hills ranch lies right in the heart of it.
The house proved to be equally delightful. Since it was available, Mev and Petro, the owners, kindly gave us the Bushman's Cottage, a 3-bedroom house, instead of the 2-bedroom we had booked, for no extra charge. Originally built in 1888, but much updated, it was beautifully decorated, had adequate heat in the form of a wood stove in the living room, indoor braai in the dining room, and several space heaters, and most importantly, had a stunning view of the surrounding Red Hills, and the ranch. Almost the first thing we saw on arrival was a field full of Ostriches, along with a herd of Baboons! (Oh, I neglected to mention that this whole area is Ostrich country, where thousands of Ostriches are raised, mostly for their meat nowadays, but formerly for their feathers, when there was a tremendous boom-and-bust episode here. Ostrich novelties of all sorts are for sale at every street corner). The house had its share of Ostrich decor, too; the couch and chairs were upholstered in Ostrich leather, which is decoratively patterned with the bumps where feathers were, and a lamp made with three painted Ostrich eggs, etc. There were also many nice African-themed paintings and drawings on the walls, and three skin-topped drums that Colin enjoyed.
This was our most peaceful and comfortable location yet, and we all felt a little bit like it was home, and wished we could stay longer than our scheduled 3 days. After settling in we visited Oudtshoorn, the most major town in the area, about 15 miles away, and got groceries, as well as locating a nice Internet Cafe/Gift shop. Emily found an attractive, heavy cotton top with a tiger cub stenciled on it, and since her T-shirts have been shrinking off her as fast as weve bought them, I got it for her after being assured it wouldnt shrink!
Monday was sunny but very windy. The kids wanted to ride horses, but it was too windy for that, so with Mevs direction we took a walk through the surrounding hills. We circled the largest massif near the ranch, which, among other erosional oddities, had a large arch carved out near the top. On the back side we were tempted to try to climb up to it, but the way was steep and the wind strong enough that we decided against it. We saw loads of pretty flowers, most small and many yellow, the most lovely being the Karoo Violet, a low-growing deep-violet flower with dark patterning in the throat, rather like a cupped pansy. Emily was proud to have spotted it first! The wind was bothersome at times, but at other times we moved out of it and were almost too hot.
The walk took us about 3 hours, though Mev had said it was 1 1/2 hours long - no doubt the difference between rapidly-walking adults, and a slow-moving, bird- and flower-watching family with a 4-year-old. When we got back we were tired, so when it clouded up and began raining after lunch, we were happy just to take naps, rest, and work on the computer.
Tuesday was sunny again, and much less windy, so first priority was a horseback ride around the ranch. Actually Emily and I rode horses, while Rich led Colin around on a small pony. We started out behind our escort (a black employee who understood some English but spoke none) on a different trail than the one we had walked on the previous day, with Rich and Colin walking behind. We were soon joined by a pretty black and white dog who slipped under a fence to accompany us. (The ranch has many houses scattered around it, some belonging to the main complex, some being rented out as vacation cottages, and some occupied by native families. The land ownership/occupancy situation is complicated here, and we didnt quite figure out how it works). Emily was having trouble with her horse - it kept lagging behind, occasionally stopping completely, and finally stopped and wouldnt budge. I switched horses with her, and with quite a bit of difficulty got the mare going again. After we waded across a river (leaving Rich and Colin behind) she seemed to settle down, whether because she realized we werent going to turn back after that point, or because of my great horsemanship :-) I didnt know. We found out later that the previous evening a stallion had escaped from his field with the help of some sheep (who broke the fence), and had mounted her. This was why she was so distracted!
The ride was pleasant, though not through such spectacular scenery as we had seen the previous day. I wasnt sorry it only lasted 45 minutes, though, because as usually happens when I ride I was quite sore by the next day.
After the ride Petro offered to give us a tour of his Ostriches, which we accepted with alacrity. After he demonstrated the strength of Ostrich eggs by standing on one, we watched the mother Ostrich carefully rearranging the eggs with her head until they were all safely tucked in under her again. In a different field, he captured a small Ostrich chick, which the kids got to hold and pet. Just like a chicken baby, though many times larger and coarsely quilled, it sat quietly in Colins lap for quite some time, peeping softly.
All is not peaceful in the Ostrich raising world, however. Petro described how some of the Ostrich males are more aggressive than others, and one time one attacked him from behind, using its powerful, spurred legs, and wounded his leg so badly he was on crutches for months. If the wound had been a fraction in a different direction it would have severed a tendon or ripped open an artery - he was very lucky. He also told us a lot about raising Ostriches. After the tour none of us felt any need to go to one of the Ostrich show farms of which there were several - about the only additional thing they might have had was riding an Ostrich, which we felt we could pass on!
For the afternoon we decided to head to the Cango Wildlife Park near Oudtshoorn, an alternative to all the Ostrich farms. We took a scenic back road through the mountains, and considered taking a detour through the Swartsberg Pass, supposed to be one of the most gorgeous mountain passes around. However, we knew it was also very winding, precipitous, and unpaved, and with the added possibility of icyness, since there was still snow on the high mountains, we decided to skip it.
At the Cango Wildlife Park we went on the guided tour past Crocodiles and Alligators of various sizes, and the main reason for the parks existence, Cheetahs and other big cats. They are a major breeding center for the endangered Cheetahs (apparently Cheetahs are endangered not so much from loss of habitat, as from inbreeding resulting from near-extinction after the last ice-age, which left their gene pool too small to be viable over the long term. Human knowledge is now working to breed healthy lines with maximum genetic variation), and also have Pumas, Jaguars, Lions, and both golden and white Tigers. For an extra fee one could actually pet and visit with either Cheetahs or a charming pair of White Tiger cubs - only adults, 16 and over were permitted, though, so Emily was excluded. I considered it, but would have most liked to visit the cubs, and they were too expensive.
The rest of the park included various small animals like Meercats (one of Colins favorites), small goats to feed and pet, potbellied pigs, and other standard fare for childrens zoos.
For the remainder of the afternoon we worked at the pleasant Internet Cafe in Oudtshoorn. The owners daughter, just a bit older than Colin, was there after school, and she and Colin played very happily in a back room the whole time. Apparently she doesnt get much chance to play with other kids because of her mothers schedule, and she cried when Colin had to leave, after trying very hard and sincerely to convince me that Colin should stay much longer.
Wednesday morning we sadly said goodbye to our hosts at the Red Hills. We stopped in Oudtshoorn again on the way out of the area, this time visiting a small local museum featuring interesting displays on Ostriches and their history in the area, and the other sorts of historical displays typical for small town museums - shop mockups, old clothing, dolls, dishes, carriages. This one had the added bonus of some of the ugliest pottery I have ever seen - for sale, of course.
We drove for about an hour through the hills bordering the coastal plain, and at a beautiful hilltop viewpoint overlooking the town of George we stopped for lunch. We were entertained by a lizard which kept popping up over a stone wall, and a flock of Red-winged Starlings as we ate. Then we proceeded through George, a large and unprepossessing town, and headed east to the little lagoon-side town of Sedgefield-on-Sea. At the visitor information center, where I had booked our next accommodation, the girl there (not the one I spoken to on the phone) could find no record of our booking, and hadnt a clue what to do. Fortunately, armed with a map of the town and an address, we had no problem finding Villa Hamburg. It turned out to be a pleasant, modern purpose-built B&B/self-catering house just over a sand-dune ridge from the beach, in a peaceful area just beginning to be built up with expensive homes. Hayley, the owner, was very pleasant, and gave us a choice of apartments. We chose an upstairs one with a good sunny exposure and comfy couches.
I had particularly wanted a place close to a beach for the kids to play on, since the weather was supposed to be nice for the next few days. Unfortunately, when we crested the dunes approaching the beach, the waves were surprisingly loud and large, and Colin got frightened and refused to go any further. The beach was wide, clean and beautiful, though, and the next day, after we talked to him in advance about how far away the waves would be, and how brave he could be, he went onto the beach with us with no problem. Advance preparation is usually the answer to any problems of that sort with Colin - he doesnt like to be surprised by things.
Thursday - Saturday, August 29 - 31
The Garden Route
Thursday we drove to the nearby town of Knynsa, more-or-less the heart of the Garden Route. It is scenically placed on a very large lagoon, protected from the ocean waves by a pair of high headlands (unimaginatively called The Heads) with a narrow channel between. We knew we wanted to take a boat ride out onto the lagoon, and Emily wanted to go right on out to the ocean, so we stopped at the first stand we encountered selling boat tickets, and picked a Catamaran called The Mistress which would be sailing in 45 minutes, and would go out to the ocean if conditions permitted.
We wandered around the upscale waterfront shops while we waited, and admired the view. Then we found Mistress, with a mermaid on her side, only to discover that we had to board her at a dock quite a ways down the waterfront.
Once on board, with the other 4 people (this boat only took 8 people per excursion), we enjoyed a wonderful cruise out through the lagoon, past lots of birds feeding on low-tide sandbars (which were covered by the time we returned), and out towards the Heads. Emily sat right up front on a flat stretch of webbing, and Colin, despite his usual misgivings about boats, was right up front part of the time too. We spent quite a bit of time talking with the owner, and enjoyed the peaceful water and beautiful views.
Alas, when we got to the Heads there was very heavy surf, and it wasnt safe to exit the lagoon. Along with another Catamaran, we hung in the mild swells that got in past the sandbar and rocks, watching the waves, then finally turned back. Since we hadnt been able to go out to the ocean, the owner offered to stop by the Featherbed Nature Reserve instead. The Western head is entirely devoted to a privately-owned nature reserve, and so is free of the houses dotting the Eastern head. We docked, and above us was a marvelous small restaurant and shop complex, with decks dotted with dining tables winding beneath a low tree canopy which must have been marvelously shady in summer. There was a small display of the rare and endangered Knynsa Sea horse, and some Duickers, a very tiny forest antelope, and most lovely, the Knynsa Lourie, a green crested bird native to the area, so smoothly feathered it looks artificial. In the small shop I happened upon a Cheetah t-shirt I had admired at the Cango Wildlife Park, and here they had it in my size, so I got one.
We would have loved to visit the reserve itself (that would have been another trip), but I had strained one of the thigh muscles stressed by horseback riding, and didnt feel I could manage much hiking this day. After returning on the Catamaran, we ate our picnic lunch on the waterfront, then visited a local factory that makes lovely wood and ceramic bird (and other animal) carvings. The tour wasnt quite the factory tour Colin had expected (people carving and painting, instead of lots of machines), but we all enjoyed seeing the extensive line of birds. We didnt buy any, though, as they were very expensive.
Then we decided to drive to the East head, which looked to have good viewpoints. Unfortunately we took a wrong turn or two, and ended up in a black township, where we attracted stares, then on a freeway detour, then finally at a little dead-end parking area and restaurant at the base of the head, not the top. Colin had been asleep for quite awhile when we got there, and he continued to sleep and didnt even see the view from the base of the head. By the time we got back to Knynsa, instead of feeling happy and relaxed from our boat tour, we were frustrated and tired of driving, so after looking for and not finding a restaurant that we liked the looks of, we headed back to Sedgefield to eat at our flat. It was a nice evening, so before sunset we took a restorative walk on the beach - this was when Colin went on the beach despite the waves.
Emily and Colin both agreed that Friday they wanted to visit Monkeyland, a forest rehabilitation home for abandoned pets, zoo rejects, and other unwanted or mistreated monkeys. It was east of Knynsa, past an Elephant park (there used to be many Elephants in the Knynsa forests, but they are long gone, though fondly remembered) which we thought we might visit later. On arrival at Monkeyland, we were escorted to the visitors lodge, a large 2-story building with upper and lower decks and a small restaurant, surrounded by forest. While we waited for the next tour, we were treated to quite a show by several troops of the resident, free-roaming monkeys. Small golden squirrel monkeys and capuchins scampered along railings and into trees, a large black-and-white lemur sauntered around on a fence, and several large blue-faced monkeys (Spectacled Langurs, we later learned) were lounging around on the upper deck sunbathing. When the tour actually started, and we headed into the forest, it was rather a letdown since for quite a while there were no monkeys to be seen! However the tour guide (Donovan, I believe) was knowledgeable and entertaining, and we soon began seeing plenty of monkeys and learning quite a bit about them. We were also accompanied part way by a small B&W cat, which Emily and Colin enjoyed petting when she wasnt running away from monkeys (who pull her tail). We were also followed around for quite awhile by a large White-handed Langur who had grown too fond of people (since the monkeys were supposed to be getting used to living in the forest again, touching them was not permitted) and kept trying to hug Donovan. She pouted quite humanly when he turned her down! Eventually she was chased off by one of the big lemurs, who apparently had it in for her after having her tail pulled while she slept.
We heard a lot about the antics of the very intelligent Capuchins, who are now being used as aid animals for people with disabilities. One male, known as a character, stole someones lipstick one time, then came back a few hours later with lipstick all over his face (except the lips)! Not only that, but he paraded around the deck showing off for everyone.
When one female monkey was sick, she had learned that if she ate her bitter medicine she would get a marshmallow. So often she would sneeze in the presence of people, in an effort to convince them she was sick (she really liked marshmallows!)
One of the lemurs, captive-born daughter of a resident, having not been taught anything about nest building or baby-rearing, apparently thought that a birds nest looked like a good idea, and when her time came copied the nest of one of the local birds, which worked quite well.
After Monkeytown we decided to try visiting a nearby place called Natures Valley. We didnt really know anything about it but it sounded nice. It turned out to be more than nice. We drove down a beautiful river gorge to the ocean, and there found a large, quiet lagoon, protected from the ocean waves by a large sand bar and surrounded by steep, forested hills. It was a perfect spot, and we wished we could have rented a cottage on its shores and taken a boat out (though Im not actually sure that any of the cottages were for rent - the residential area nearby was singularly free of B&B signs, and appeared to be pleasantly residential rather that touristy in the least - part of its charm, of course. We spent quite awhile pursuing our respective interests - Emily walking barefoot in the lagoon and trying to dig up clams or whatever was making squirting holes in the sand, Colin digging in the sand, me watching birds through the binoculars (and walking with Emily), and Rich talking to a fellow-visitor (and walking). If we were to move to a seaside location, this is the sort of place we would look for.
Towards sunset we drove back to Knynsa for dinner, only to find we had hit that lull between end-of-workday (about 5 pm) and the late dinner hour we have come to expect everywhere we have been, about 7:30 and on. Fortunately we found one convenient waterfront restaurant serving meals, and had a good dinner - we didnt want to be out very late.
Our final day on the Garden Route, Saturday, was very low key. We drove west to Heralds Bay beach, which had been recommended by our host at the Red Stone Hills farm as a good place for families. It was indeed, with a broad sandy beach, and off to one side smoothly worn rocks pocked with crystal-clear tide pools brimming with fish, shells, and seaweed. We all enjoyed exploring the tide pools, and collected lots of lovely shells. Colin had lots of sand to dig in, and found a little boy his age to play with for quite awhile. After a fine day at the beach, and a late lunch, we returned to our flat and cleaned and sorted shells. We kept multiple specimens of several varieties, because each one was different and beautiful. We also had several small but lovely abalone. After doing our remaining sorting for the next airline flight, we had a small bag of childrens outgrown clothing which we left with Hayley, whose husband was a pastor and would see it properly distributed.
Sunday - Tuesday, September 1 - 3
Back to the Cape
Sunday was primarily a driving day, as we returned most of the way west towards Cape Town. We stopped briefly at the beach in Mossel Bay, which was supposed to be very nice, but found it dirty and disappointing. Then, knowing that the grocery stores were likely to be closed by early afternoon, we stopped for groceries in Swellendam, which we had been in before - the two roads we had taken through the Klein Karoo and the Garden Route intersected at this point. Then we finished the drive through increasingly scenic coastal mountains, ending by early afternoon in Kleinmond, a small town about an hours drive from Cape Town, and along a very scenic section of coast. The weather had been increasingly windy, and by the time we moved into Villa La Roc (a lovely two-story house with an especially friendly and helpful owner, and our last self-catering accommodation in South Africa) it was very strong - another weather front was moving in. We hurried off to the one place I wanted especially to visit while we were here, knowing it might rain anytime - the Harold Porter Botanic Garden. It proved to be a small but pretty garden, representing the coastal fynbos. (This whole area is in a large Eco-reserve, recently established to preserve and promote the remaining unique habitat which is the botanical core of the fantastic Cape Flora). We only took the shortest circular path through it, because the wind was so strong we could hardly walk in it - as strong as the wind on the ferry to Ireland had been!
Monday the winds were gale-force, and soon the rain started in earnest. Villa La Roc turned out to be a very pleasant and cozy place to ride out the storm, with a good heater and reasonably windproof windows. The owner kindly turned her satellite station to the Cartoon Network, so the kids were able to indulge in more cartoons than they had seen in weeks, while Rich and I worked on arrangements for our upcoming arrival in Australia, making two wet and windy forays to a nearby Internet Cafe at the Visitor Information Center, and also using Rudas internet connection a bit. We also packaged and shipped off our South Africa box back to Laura, who is keeping them for us.
Tuesday it was time to return to Cape Town. We left by 8 am, first driving through the amazing rocky slope down from the eroded coastal mountains. The slopes were studded with rocks of all sizes which had obviously tumbled down from the cliffs above, and what was most amazing was that people were building their houses among them, sometimes right next to boulders big enough to crush the house beside them. What, I wonder, makes them think that the boulders have stopped falling?
We continued around the point into False Bay, the bay right before the Cape of Good Hope, and as scenic as we had been told, pausing to attempt to photograph the sun beaming through clouds and a gap in the mountains. Then we detoured north through the Stellenbosch wine country, which was mostly pretty but didnt entice us to stop, and ended back in Bellville, where we had to stop at the travel agents to pick up our vouchers for Mauritius. We also went book shopping, as Emily was out of reading material, and were astounded again by the incredibly high price of books here. Food is reasonable, clothes rather cheap, but new books are outrageous! We were also fortunate enough to find a new swimsuit for Emily, despite the fact that most stores had not begun receiving their summer stock; she had outgrown the one shed gotten in the spring at home, and we knew she would need one in Mauritius.
Aside from locating and checking into our nice but pricey B&B, and dropping off our laundry at a service wash, we spent the rest of the afternoon back at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, and finally managed to meet Dave. He was about to leave for a trip to Durban, but very kindly make time for us, and we had a most enjoyable talk about his work (largely publishing books and posters for the botanical society) and lecture visits to the US, the South African flora, and more that Ive forgotten. He gave us copies of several lovely posters of various local habitats (with a mailing tube to protect them, fortunately, or we would have had to decline), and I noted down a very fine book he had just gotten with photos of the Cape Flora, which I hope to order later.
We spent our last available half-hour roaming Kirstenbosch again, and unlike last time saw several mongooses, which pleased Colin since he had been enjoying the message-laden Monty the Mongoose book I had gotten on our previous visit.