For the sake of completeness, I’ll report that we returned safely to Phoenix yesterday morning. My mom met us at the security checkpoint, and our bags were already at the carousel when we got there. We arrived home in time for a quick lunch and a shower and made it to the last Mass at our church. A two-hour nap and dinner at my parents’ house rounded out the day.

Today, we catch up on sleep, and maybe a few necessary errands.

My thanks go out to everyone who visited this blog and shared their thoughts with us while we were traveling. It was great to stay in touch with our friends and family back home and around the world.

I’m at the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport in the boarding area for the flight back to Phoenix. After an exhausting flight from Johannesburg, at this point we’re roughly three-quarters of the way home.

The formalities in Atlanta were tolerable. The low point, as usual, was the TSA checkpoint. For the second time this trip, it was Kathryn, not I, who lashed out verbally at a TSA “officer”. The CBP folks, on the other hand, were both professional and personable. Even when a beagle signalled on someone else’s bag, the officers were courteous to the passenger involved.

We had told ourselves we would have McDonald’s exactly once while in South Africa, but somehow we were never near one at the right time. Instead, I had McDonald’s for breakfast here in Atlanta. They offer the chicken biscuit sandwiches here. They are no longer on the menu in Phoenix, so I had one. It should fill the gap until I get home. It was the first time I’d used U.S. dollars since Christmas Day, and I’m fairly sure I could have bought two McDonald’s breakfasts in South Africa for the price of the one I bought here.

This is not our flight, nor even our airline.

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However, it is at O. R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, where we’re waiting for our very long flight back to the United States. We should begin boarding in about a half-hour. Expect radio silence at least until Sunday morning, Atlanta time.

Yesterday we ventured about an hour’s drive from Johannesburg to visit the Maropeng Visitor Center, part of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site where some of the earliest human remains have been discovered.

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The visitor center tells the story of the evolution of human beings through interpretive and interactive displays, a short indoor boat ride, and a small museum of fossilized remains.

I was fascinated by the natural history. The last time I dug into the origins of man, I was an eleventh-grader — and since I was in a public high school, my materials weren’t exactly the latest — so I was close to a half-century behind in my knowledge. For example, I was aware of Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus, but since then new intermediate species have been identified. I was also surprised how relatively recently the scientific consensus had arrived at Africa as the birthplace of humanity. As little as sixty years ago, man was believed to have originated in Asia or Europe.

Unfortunately, the science was somewhat tarnished by propaganda — a common problem with interpretive sites like this. For example, did you know some scientists believe we’re in the midst of a sixth mass extinction caused by man? I do, because I was told it in three different displays. The biggest problem facing mankind is depletion of natural resources and destruction of the environment resulting from over-consumption, according to one set of displays. The biggest problem facing mankind is also income disparity, according to another set of displays not more than a few yards away. No suggestion was offered for how we get the whole world at the same level of income without dramatically increasing global consumption — unless the idea is to make the whole world equally poor. Oh, and did you know mankind could buy its way out of global hunger for what the developed world spends on pet food? Because, you know, the global price of food won’t change with billions of new consumers and no new supply.

Luckily, I was able to separate the science and natural history from the political propaganda and appreciate the site for the former.

Yesterday was a relatively relaxing day here in Johannesburg.

Around mid-morning Kathryn and I ventured out to get me a haircut and shave. I had gotten a haircut shortly before leaving for South Africa, but three weeks of normal hair growth, combined with a bit too much hair left in front, had left me unhappy with my appearance. On top of that, I had decided not to shave while at the Kruger, so I had a scruffy six-day beard that was going to be a challenge to shave myself.

I got a recommendation for a traditional barber shop run by an old Italian man. Kathryn rarely accompanies me for a haircut, but she couldn’t resist watching me shaved with a straight razor. The fact that they call it a “cut-throat” razor here in South Africa increased the level of intrigue.

When we arrived at the barber shop, the old-timer was busy with another customer, so I climbed into the second chair. This guy spent close to an hour with me. The haircut was first, starting with clippers and then moving to the scissors. Then the real work began. He applied a cream to my face and did a machine facial massage, which I think was meant to prepare my face for the shave. Then he lathered my face, which by itself took longer than I spend in the bathroom most mornings. Then came the shave itself, which was done carefully and methodically, the barber sometimes returning to a spot for what seemed like a single missed whisker. Another softening cream and hand massage followed the shave, and the finishing touch was a traditional hot towel for a few minutes.

I left the shop feeling like a new man.

As if to one-up the experience, the old-timer also owned the cafe next door and offered Kathryn and me an espresso after the haircut. We enjoyed it on the cafe patio, along with a light second breakfast.

I’m starting to rethink how I get my hair cut at home.

Yesterday we made the drive back to Johannesburg from the Lower Sabie camp in Kruger National Park. We had entered the park at Orpen Gate but left via Crocodile Gate, near the southern end of the park, not far from the border of Mozambique. It took us nearly an hour to get out of the camp in steady rain, during which we sighted several lions and hyenas, among the many creatures that had come to drink from the puddles formed in the pavement.

The first couple hours of driving were through the valley of the Crocodile River, passing by fields of sugar cane, bananas, and citrus groves. I didn’t really think about the similarities to Hawaii until we stopped at a farm stand where they sold macadamia nuts and lychees.

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The rest of the trip was essentially a repeat in reverse of the first three hours of the trip to the park.

Now back in Johannesburg, we can all unwind a bit. Our plans for the day include shopping, a nice lunch out, and for me, a badly needed haircut and shave.