"Not all who wander are aimless. Especially not those who seek truth beyond tradition, beyond definition, beyond the image."

Sunday, December 13

I dreamed of Africa...

Smiling faces from the township school
View from Table Mountain...the 2010 World Cup stadium is just out of view to the right!

An amazing story....read on!

1 of our many animal encounters. A herd takes their drink!

African sunsets really ARE all that!

The green and waterfalls just outside of Kruger
It's been far too long since I've written, and, well, I'd say it's about time! As I sit out looking at the 10 stars that occupy the Bangkok sky, and enjoy the 5 degree drop in temperature, which, for the record, merely makes it bearable but has me believing I'm experiencing a proper Christmas season, something (perhaps my and Rach's rendition of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and"Circle of Life" while strolling home) has pulled me back to my journey to Africa-- and the memories are sweet.

Rachel and I landed in Joburg, South Africa with 2 weeks, the open road, a complete lack of reliable maps and planning, and our rent-a-car Zed ahead. We were out of Joburg as soon as we were in it, and passed through the most dangerous city in the world without so much as a second thought. Our first stop took us to Sabie, a tiny dot on the map surrounded by green mountains and of course the beautifully bright lavender Jacaranda trees. Our big welcome to our first South African town, after flying for nearly 17 hours and driving an additional 5, was a water problem. Meaning no shower (ouch) and no toilets until things were fixed. Our silly misunderstanding had us believing that it was just this particular guest house we pulled in to---and thought the problem could easily be solved by 1) going elsewhere or 2) getting a discount that would make popping a squat and holding out for a shower a bit longer worth it. But turns out, when the town is as small as this one, everyone in it experiences water problems simultaneously. Duh. The water never did come back on that day/night and we found ourselves 'showering' in the pool. As you do. The next day was spent painfully surrounded by green, mountains, waterfalls, and friendly locals before entering the vastness of Kruger National Park. We spent the next 3 nights in the park, acting as our own Safari guides and striking it lucky in more ways then my mind can grasp. The animals were UNREAL and there really is nothing like looking out over the flat nothingness to see animals grazing on the horizon. I think my favourite were the giraffes, but it's hard to choose a favourite when, for 3 days, you literally see more (this is only the list of the names I know...forget about the ones that had a 'what in the hell is that' reaction) hyenas, impala, eagles, giraffes, zebras, wart hogs, rhinos, elephants, guinea fowls, wilde beasts, springboks, baboons, leopards, lions, birds, kudos, ostriches, monkeys, buffalo then you can count. One of our most amazing experiences came when we cut the engine and sat on the roof of Zed watching and listening to the hippos in the lake. They alone had us mesmerized. Then we saw the crocs. Then the herd of Zebra and wilde beast walked right past us to get a drink. Then it was the buffalo's turn. Then, through the bush came a herd of 35+ elephants (babies and all) to have their drink. Then the monkey's (so carefully taking their drink---surely to avoid the fate of hippo snack) and impalas. Nothing could have shaken us from the amazement of those moments. Once out of the park, the animal sitings continued and I still can't get over driving down the highway and seeing a giraffe or other wildlife. Am I in Lion Country Safari or is this really happening?! Unfortunately our luck under the water was less successful and our attempts at diving (Sodwana Bay) were overshadowed by bad conditions and viz. One dive and we called it quits (but not before seeing some great eels, a huge rubberlips fish, having "Nemo" literally bite my lip and having a jelly wrap round my neck leaving me with a beautiful sting that Rach insisted I wipe vinegar and meat tenderizer on!) . We also were crazy enough to get into a cage with great whites---BUT, they never came. We can't say we didn't try :). We turned "luxury" the next few days as we traveled down the coast (the Garden Route, etc) and loved the shit outta some B&B places. How will we ever stay in a hostel or guesthouse again? We're doomed! All the places were amazing---the food, the staff, the views. As we entered the southern coast, the whales came out to play. And when I say Whales, I really mean WHALES. Our first siting was as we were driving 80km down the road. A quick glimpse to the sea (yes, the road is that close---) and BAM---"DID YOU SEE THAT?! WHALE!"....Zed screeched to the side of the road and we watched 3 Southern Right Whales for over an hour---only a few yards from the shore. We had so many moments like this that, if whale spotting could actually get old/boring, it might have. As we entered Cape Town, the iffy weather decided to take a hike, parting in time for a warm, beautiful Table Mountain welcome. We found a GREAT backpackers place right on the main strip of Long Street and soaked up the amazing weather for our last 3 days. 1 day spent atop Table Mountain and in Stellenbosch, tasting wine and hitting up 4 or 5 of the HUNDREDS of wineries that make Stellenbosch what it is. We did the famous Chapman's Peak Drive along the coast and timed it perfectly for the sun setting and, of course, the whales. The drive was beautiful, even if we were constantly glancing up at the walls of reinforcements intended to stop the rocks from crashing down on us and Zed! Our last full day in the Cape was spent with our tour guide in the District 6 museum, the townships, and Robben Island---as we tried to wrap our minds and hearts around the past, present and future of this beautiful country. The townships, also referred to as the slums or ghetto, were full of smiling faces, but lacking in water, electricity, sanitation and other conveniences/civilities that disappeared during the "relocations" that took place in the 1960's. Our tour guide pointed out a young man surrounded with live wires---as he tried to illegally wire electricity from one place to another so that a family might have a single light, and he may make a few bucks (yes, even Rand, the South African currency is referred to as 'bucks'!). We visited a school, where the ratio of students to teachers was shocking...as was the ratio of space to children. But they were making it work, and it filled our hearts. We heard many encouraging stories, one about a woman named Vicky and her amazing B&B right in the heart of one of these townships. She started from nothing and now has a beautiful B&B with 3 rooms that she opens to tourists---allowing them to stay in the heart of things and get a true look and appreciation of the people inside the townships. From the letters filling the walls in Vicky's B&B, it was clear what an impact this place had on it's visitors. It was an experience that they all took back home with them, and, for many, was just the encouragement they needed to step up and reach out to those less fortunate. I like win-win's. Had Rachel and I known of it sooner, we definitely would have stayed. We ferried out to Robben Island and had an ex-political prisoner guide us around the island and the prison where Nelson Mandela and so many others spent decades. Today, a few ex-prisoners have made the island their home and it amazes me that they are able to face the past with such acceptance. Our last dinner was at a South African restaurant where we sampled local beer, kudo, springbok, and ostrich (3 animals from our Kruger siting list---hehe!) and enjoyed live entertainment. A great send off. By the next morning, I'd be landing in the tiny airport of Windhoek, Namibia and Rachel in Casablanca, Morocco. My experiences in Namibia in a blog to follow shortly!