Tuesday, June 29, 2010

sala kakuhle, south africa

It's hard to believe that my time here in Cape Town has come to an end, and it's amazing how quickly five and a half months can pass. I am so thankful for my experiences abroad.

I think about the Bonnytoun boys often, having to accept that I will never know the outcomes of their lives. I hope that they are doing okay for now at least. One of my favorite students, Moegamat, went home the last week of May. I'm sure many of the other boys won't fare so well. It hurts deeply to think about the likely possibility that some of them will end up in Pollsmoor Prison, a place that sounds like about the closest thing to hell that I could ever imagine. Something needs to be done for the youth in South Africa. And, they need a president that sets a better example of manhood for the young men and boys in South Africa. I am a strong believer that many of the problems that afflict women (largely rape, especially in South Africa) are a result of a skewed perception of manhood. As I worked at Bonnytoun all semester, I hoped that my presence as a female could act as a way to encourage the boys to view women respectfully, instead of mimicking the perceptions of the gangsters in their townships, or their American rapper idols, or their fathers or older brothers. I will never know if I had any effect in that area, but I know that even if I did, it is only the tiniest victory in a long and terrible battle that both women and men struggle with here and all over the world. Even if I changed the mindset of every boy in the class (which I know I didn't), it was a grain of salt in comparison with the enormity of the problem.

South Africa is a young country, a country with a democracy younger than me. It is a beautiful country, the rainbow country, with a plethora of cultures, traditions, and histories, as well as an incredible landscape of natural beauty. It also has racism, HIV/AIDS, rape, homicide, gangsterism, drugs, poverty, sexism, and crime... some topping the international charts. It has a president who excused rape allegations by claiming that he knew the woman wanted to have sex with him because she was wearing a short skirt... and later responded to questioning about HIV testing by saying that he knew he didn't have HIV - he took a shower after having sex with her! South Africa has a long way to go, and I believe that the people of South Africa must lead the struggle toward progress. Despite my involvement in it, I am skeptical of the foreign aid and help that is occurring throughout all of Africa. Certainly I believe that other countries should provide help and support, but I fear it prevents nations from learning to help themselves, and gives them a sense of dependency on others. There must be a balance. South Africans are strong, and I think they can accomplish more alone than they believe.

South Africa also needs time. Some day, South Africans will live in much greater circumstances, and in unity among the races and genders. But sadly, I don't think that day will come soon.

I have great hope for South Africa. I worked this semester with teenage boys facing criminal charges... those considered the "bad guys." And they had so much goodness in their hearts. If they are the bad guys, then I think this country will be okay. If these "bad guys" were only given a decent chance and treated right, they would all grow up to be wonderful men. If people could just get a decent chance here, then everything would change. But that's easier said than done.

I am thankful for my time here, and that I was able to see so many sides to South Africa, both good and bad, and from so many different angles. I am thankful for the people that I shared my semester with, from South Africa, the United States, Botswana, and Trinidad. I have learned from every one of them, and I feel more confident in who I am than ever before. It's been a wonderful five and a half months. And now, I look forward to going home, to my favorite people in the world - my family.

Farewell, South Africa! I will hold you in my heart. Sala kakuhle (Stay well).

Monday, June 28, 2010

hiking table mountain

Today, I completed the one last thing I felt that I just HAD to do before leaving Cape Town - hike Table Mountain. Two University of Maryland graduate students that are staying in the same lodge that I am kindly invited me to join them, so I had company for the hike. We hiked via Skeleton Gorge, which after experiencing it, I am convinced is named for the presence of hidden skeletons of hikers that passed out on their way to the top... It was a TOUGH hike, straight up for what felt like years. It was beautiful though, for the trail runs alongside a waterfall! After reaching the top of Skeleton Gorge, the hike became much more enjoyable, and I was better able to appreciate the scenery. We made our way over to Table Mountain, near the cable car, and then hiked down a more direct trail that was also very steep. My knees are a little achy from that, but I'm sure it's nothing compared to how my quads will be feeling tomorrow...

The highest point on Table Mountain!

Looking out over Cape Town from Table Mountain was a great way to say goodbye to the city I have lived in for nearly half a year. Tomorrow, I will be finishing up my packing and final errands, having lunch at my favorite sushi restaurant in the area, going to see a play at UCT's Baxter Theater with Thandie, and then either going out for one last night on Long Street with the Maryland group... or going to bed early. After that, I will fly out of Cape Town on Wednesday afternoon.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

old biscuit mill and the waterfront

Yesterday, I decided to spend the day doing typical touristy activities - I went to the Old Biscuit Mill, went to the V & A Waterfront, and spent money! I was a little heartbroken to take my last trip to the Old Biscuit Mill, but came out of it with some delicious hot sauce and a beautiful book/cookbook that has pictures, stories, and recipes from all over South Africa. After the Old Biscuit Mill, I headed over the the Waterfront, for the first time since January. I went to the aquarium, and then went shopping. I enjoyed the aquarium, but wasn't in a very educational mood, so mostly just looked at all the interesting fish and sea creatures, and skipping over reading the informational signs about them.

From the aquarium, I wandered around the Waterfront, doing a little shopping and taking in the sights. The big surprise of the day occurred when I wandered into the V&A Waterfront Craft Market, only to see none other than Bill Clinton shopping about 5 feet away from me!

I bought a couple more final souvenirs, and then headed back to my lodge. Just a few more days and then I'm homeward bound... Wednesday, June 30 at 3 PM!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

lions head

On Thursday, June 24, I decided to wake up and do what my stress fracture prevented me from doing sooner... go hiking in Cape Town. I hiked Lions Head, a pretty short (about 2 hours roundtrip) hike up to a peak that provides a 360 degree view of the surrounding city and coast. Part of the hike was very steep, and one part even required a chain to rock climb (this was on the "take at your own risk" route - there's another option that bypasses the climbing).

Friday, June 25, 2010

knysna and hermanus (june 21-22)

On the way from Plettenberg Bay to the last stop, Hermanus, we stopped at Knysna Elephant Park, where we went on a little tour of the elephant park, and I was able to feed the elephants. The tour was unimpressive, and I learned little about the elephants, but it was still fun to touch, feed, and watch the elephants from so close. I did learn that elephants live for about as long as humans, and the elephants at Knysna responded to their names! When I brought up the bucket of snacks (pineapple chunks, carrots, and spinach), I was bombarded by the elephants, especially the young ones. They poked at me with their trunks, and tried to sneak their trunks into the bucket while I wasn’t looking! Sometimes they wacked each others trunks away from the food with their own trunks. It was funny to see how distinct their personalities are.

We then traveled to Hermanus, about a five hour drive from Plettenberg Bay, and only one hour from Cape Town. Hermanus was probably my favorite of the towns we visited, and I wish that I had spent more time there than just one day! I was able to walk around the town, and enjoy the lovely scenery, as the town is right on the ocean. Hermanus is the land-based whale watching capital of the world... but unfortunately I did not have the privilege of seeing a whale. I embarked on a sea kayaking trip with hopes of spotting a whale, but unforseen circumstances (Jonah getting seasick) led us to turn back early. Regardless, I loved spending time in Hermanus... it is a charming little town

plettenberg bay (june 19-21)

Third stop on the Garden Route: Plettenberg Bay. Although the Garden Route continues on to Port Elizabeth, this was the furthest stop we made along the route. Plettenberg Bay is about another hour and a half from Oudtshoorn, bay on the coast. Plettenberg Bay is another nice town, bigger than Oudtshoorn and very touristy, with the beach town vibe. We went on a hike in the Robberg National Park, and then went to see Monkeyland, Birds of Eden, and lastly the Knysna Elephant Park before heading back toward Hermanus. Robberg National Park was beautiful, but time constraints led us to take the shorter hiking route, about two hours round trip instead of four. The hike took us around the park, which is right on the coast. You could look down at one point and see a group of seals splashing and barking in the water. We stopped along the part of the trail that led to a beach, and I was able to stick my feet in the ocean... it was MUCH warmer than the ocean water around Cape Town.

After hiking the Robberg Nature Trail, I went to Monkeyland and Birds of Eden, two animal sanctuaries that are right next to each other, just past Plettenberg Bay. We went on a one hour tour of Monkeyland, during with the guide told us about the different types of monkeys in the sanctuary, and where they came from. The monkeys in Monkeyland are monkeys that were formerly pets or zoos, and thus are most likely unable to survive in the wild. Monkeyland is surrounded by fences, but within those limits the monkeys roam as they please.

After Monkeyland, we walked through Birds of Eden. There were a lot of beautiful birds from all over the world, but there was no guided tour so I didn't learn much about the birds.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

oudtshoorn (june 17-19)

Second stop on the Garden Route: Oudtshoorn. Oudtshoorn was further inland, about an hour and a half drive from Mossel Bay. Oudtshoorn is a small town known for its many ostrich farms, and also for the famous Cango Caves nearby. I was able to visit both an ostrich show farm (Cango Ostrich Show Farm), and the Cango Caves. I bought an ostrich egg as a souvenir, and even had some ostrich meat for lunch… it was delicious, and I enjoyed eating meat that I knew came from just down the street. That’s about as local as you can get without slaughtering it yourself! The ostrich farm was one of my favorite activities. I just think ostriches are hilarious, and they really are unique in a lot of ways. They eat stones to help digest their food, they have a finger and thumb in each wing (they aren’t used for anything), their necks can turn around 360 degrees, and they could probably kill someone with a solid kick with their toe. When a female ostrich lays her first egg, it is infertile, and somehow she knows to stomp on it and eat it, to get calcium to lay another, fertile egg.

They put the little bag over the ostriches heads when trying to ride or sit on them... It doesn't do anything except calm them down. The ostrich was kind of struggling when the trainer grabbed him, but the second the mask was on, he was docile as a lamb.

In addition to the ostrich farm, we went on a tour of the Cango Caves. They caves are HUGE and beautiful, and they lead guided tours through them. Pathways, lights, and stairs make it accessible to people of all ages… and you don’t even get dirty.

The caves were beautiful, but the real cave fun came the next day when we went caving with our fearless guide Johan. Johan and Mike were two Afrikaaner men who own a company called TBI adventures in the Oudtshoorn area. We went quad biking (four wheeling, ATVing, whatever you want to call it) after the Cango Caves, with Mike. The following morning, we went caving with Johan before hitting the road for Plettenberg Bay. Quad biking was awesome, and the scenery was beautiful… there was even snow on the highest mountains! Caving, however, took the cake. Decked out in coveralls, helmets, headlamps, and gloves, Jonah, three other people from Cape Town, and I followed Johan up to a rocky hole in the ground. Johan instructed us to climb down it, about 4 meters. The cave was large enough to sit or stand at many places, but we also slithered, crawled, climbed, slid, and shimmied through tiny holes, rocky and sandy declines and tunnels. Unlike Cango Caves, we were covered in mud. The final chamber we entered was full of beautiful white stalagtites and stalagmites, thousands of years old. The trek took about two hours, and was one of the coolest things I have ever done.

Jonah, Johan, and me at the entrance to the cave

All along the Garden Route, we encountered Afrikaans more than I am accustomed to in Cape Town. I often had to tell people that I only speak English, after they tried to ask or tell me something in Afrikaans. This never happens to me in Cape Town. I was happy, however, to encounter so many nice and friendly white Afrikaaners during my travels... my limited experiences with white Afrikaaner South Africans this semester left me with a negative stereotype. My recent travels, however, have given me grounds to cast off this stereotype.

mossel bay (june 15-17)

After five days in Cape Town, I embarked on the third of the three legs of my extended South African vacation: the Garden Route. The first stop was Mossel Bay, a town on the coast that, despite its name, sadly does not have ANY mussels. This was hugely disappointing, but we were able to find a fish market to whet the seafood craving with some local, freshly caught fish. I didn’t do much in Mossel Bay besides go on a short walk/hike around the St. Blaize Cave, which opens up right on the coast. Once again, the contrasts of huge mountain peaks and caves right on the coast was breathtaking.

St. Blaize Cave, on the coast in Mossel Bay

These little critters were all around the parking lot and rocks near the cave... People were feeding them, so they swarmed. I think they are dassies.

One more stand-out feature of Mossel Bay was my accommodation… Santos Express B & B. It is a train car turned bed & breakfast, and the rooms are actually in the train cars! Apparently it was ranked #2 on a top 10 list of most eccentric places to stay in the world.

The Santos Express Train B&B

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

italy v. paraguay

On June 14, I was lucky enough to attend the second Cape Town game of the World Cup, Italy v. Paraguay. It was incredible! Green Point Stadium was packed full of people from all over the world, dressed to support their team of choice, or even dressed for a team that wasn't playing that night (I wore my Bafana Bafana jersey). Budweiser bought out the rights to be the only beer sold within all the World Cup stadiums... I think they paid $2 billion for that privilege. I think the stadiums should have provided South African beverages: Castle, Savannah, Black Label. It would have been a more authentic experience for tourists, more locally produced, and a great industry for the South African beverages. Oh well. I went to the game with my friend Kat, and we managed to mostly avoid the rain that was pelting down on the field. Italy was the defending World Cup champion team, so I was expecting a more uneven game, but the game ended in yet ANOTHER tie game, 1-1. It was amazing to be a part of such a huge international event, and we were able to get to and from the stadium with relative ease riding free shuttles, walking, and then taking a cab home in the rain. All around incredible experience, and something I will probably never get to do again.

Approaching Green Point Stadium

Opening ceremony of the game, as the Paraguay and Italy flags were marched out on the field

Me and Kat at the Italy v. Paraguay World Cup game! Thanks to Kat acquiring the tickets, I was able to attend this game.

Photo of the whole field at the beginning of the game

Action shot during the game - you can also see the rain pouring down on the field. Luckily, our seats were well covered.

the world cup in cape town

After traveling to Elands Bay and Cederberg, I got back to Cape Town on June 10, the day before the World Cup games began. The city was alive and bustling with the excitement! I was awoken at 7:00 in the morning on Friday, June 11 to the sound of blaring vuvuzelas, which lasted for at least half an hour straight. After I got over my grumpiness at the abrupt awakening, I instantly began getting caught up in the excitement of the World Cup!

Sign of support in Greenmarket Square

South Africa’s team Bafana Bafana (“the guys”) played the opening match against Mexico in Johannesburg, and I went to Long Street to join in the World Cup fever! The streets were PACKED with people covered in Bafana Bafana gear, and the vuvuzelas didn’t stop all day. Crowds gathered anywhere they could find a TV to watch the game. I could never really get close enough to a TV to watch the game, but I was able to monitor the score… and watching the Long Street crowd was plenty of entertainment. Bafana Bafana tied Mexico, which was a huge achievement! When Bafana Bafana scored, people went crazy! An elderly woman nearby got showered as beers were poured off a balcony in celebration. Vuvuzelas, dancing, shouting, and high fives all around.

Walking through Long Street on June 11, 2010

Celebration in the street

I watched the France v. Uruguay game on a big screen on Long Street, and the 0-0 tie made me glad that I ended up with a ticket to the Italy v. Paraguay game on the 14th instead.

We walked by the fan park in Grand Parade, hoping to be able to experience the chaos there, but it was already full, with 35,000 people inside. The park was supposed to hold only 25,000, but they allowed in an extra 10,000 fans! I bought a South Africa shirt, and a Bafana Bafana jersey, and carried a vuvuzela around all day. Saturday also brought the England v. USA game, during which I found myself more patriotic than ever. Another tie game.

One of the entrances to the Grand Parade fan park - Event Full

We ran into Ronel, her sister, and Jade, all in Bafana Bafana gear!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

cederberg conservancy (june 7-10)

After two days in Elands Bay, I headed inland to Cederberg Conservancy on Monday, June 7. Cederberg is a huge, mountainous national park with loads of hiking, caves, and outdoors activities… but no paved roads. Over sixty kilometers on dirt roads took some steam out of the Atos on the way to the campsite, but it was well worth the trek.

The Atos on the Cederberg road, stopping for a scenic photo-shoot

The lodge/campsite was owned and operated by a very friendly and helpful couple, Gerrit and Chantal, who also cooked meals for residents, and made hiking recommendations (as well as detailed maps of the hiking paths). Although rain and a long search for petrol took up the whole first day, I managed to fit in two astounding hikes on the other days. On Wednesday the 9th, we hiked the Wolfberg Cracks, which ended up being about a 4.5 hour round trip hike, most of which was steep, and some of which was more like rock climbing than hiking. We missed the directions from Gerrit’s map that would have led us on top of one of the highest rocks to see a 360 degree view of the area, but the misdirection let us do our own exploring. I couldn’t believe how large some of the rocks on top of the mountain were, and how vast the peak was. I walked on the top of the mountain for about an hour without reaching the other side. The trail was not clearly marked, so we followed the deliberate piles of rocks left to lead the way. The somewhat unmarked aspect of the trail made it feel like I was exploring a new place and finding my own, instead of following a well-traveled route.

Looking up the mountain I was about to hike to get to the Wolfberg Cracks. You can see the cracks from the bottom.

I had to climb these rocks to get through the crack.

Walking inside one of the Wolfberg Cracks. I felt like I had suddenly landed in Narnia.

On top of the mountain

Peeking out of the huge rocks

On the morning of the 10th, we went to the Stadsaal Caves and to see the rock art. There is a rock art drawing by the Khoi people (often know as the Bushmen). Apparently this painting, made from rocks, has been there for about 1,000 years. The Stadsaal Caves wasn’t a hiking trail so much as a series of caves connected by paths. They were incredible. After exploring the caves for a couple hours, we hit the road again, made it out of the dirt roads of Cederberg (with a detour because of flooding), drove through Citrusdal, where we passed orange trees for miles, and made it back to Cape Town.

The rock art of the Khoi people

Approaching the Stadsaal Caves

At the entrance to one of the caves

Peeking out of a cave opening

Another beautiful scene at Cederberg, from the Stadsaal Caves