Monday, March 31, 2008

Backpacking - Saturday March 15 and Sunday March 16, Day 2 and 3 – Jeffrey’s Bay

We had another early morning getting picked up by the Baz Bus from PE for J-Bay. The weather was awful. It was gloomy for most of the drive between hostels and the minute we out of the Baz Bus at our next hostel, Island Vibe, the skies let loose. Since the Baz Bus dropped us off so early we had a lot of time to hang out before being taken to our room. The hostel was set right on the beach with steps going down to the sand. We were warned by the woman at the front desk not to travel too far to the right though, as there are a lot of problems there. The next day when the weather cleared and the sky was blue we headed to the beach. Trying to stay away from the surf lessons taking place we went to the right. There we encountered a sign that read, “BEWARE: Muggings beyond This Point.” We all had to laugh. This was our second “TIA” moment. I wondered what would happen if a mugging happened before that point, would they have to move the sign?

Our room was perfect, as there were only four beds so we didn’t have to share the room with any strangers. We spent the day lazing around, napping and exploring the tiny beach town of Jeffrey’s Bay. It reminded me of a slightly less run-down version of Asbury Park, NJ. It had a lot more young people, but it had the same feeling. We couldn’t figure out how this crappy beach town could be the surf capital of South Africa, and one of the most desirable surf spots in the world. In fact, in July the annual Billabong Pro Tournament takes place on the beach near our hostel. The town has a large BMX culture, as well. We stumbled upon a rooftop BMX park overlooking the beach. My brother Mike would have loved it.

Later in the evening they had a braai and we got to have a delicious homemade dinner. There were lamb chops, salad, couscous and sausage. It was great! The four of us also enjoyed two fish bowls, a giant drink filled with various liquors and beers. You drink them through a hose. They were very good, but got old quickly because of their size.

At one point when I was waiting at the bar a couple asked me where I was from,

“America,” I responded.

“Obviously,” he shot back, “where from?”

After informing him of my Jersey roots I found out that they too were New Jersey natives, from the sad town of Ocean City, NJ. It was crazy coming halfway across the world and meeting someone from so close by. “Jersey,” as we continued calling them stayed for the next night also and told us about shark diving and other South African experiences they’d had. They were fun to talk to.

The next morning we got up early so we could do a little more shopping before the stores closed (it was Sunday) and then we headed down to “Mugger Beach,” as we call it. We enjoyed a picnic of our now usual PB&J and Simba chips (so much better than American potato chips!) and relaxed some more. The sea was pretty rough so we didn’t do any swimming, but the relaxation was nice.

Later on we heard from Kevin, another American from WAC who was traveling the same route as us with less formal planning. He came and met us at Island Vibe. The five of us took a walk down the beach at sunset. It was gorgeous. Along the way we saw a few GIANT washed-up jelly fish. I’ve never seen jellyfish so big. The boys also stumbled upon a dead baby tiger shark which was really cool to look at up close. It had so many razor sharp teeth. Seeing the baby shark up close got me really excited for our upcoming shark dive. After our walk we got to enjoy another home cooked meal. We had fish and rice and a few cosmos – delicious.

In the morning we packed up and hit the Baz Bus headed for our next stop, Plettenberg Bay.

Backpacking - Friday March 14, Day 1 – Port Elizabeth

The four of us, Grace, Ryan, Sonya and I, left Rhodes at 8:30am. We made the 1.5 hour journey to the PE airport where we took a cab to our hostel. In the cab we curiously asked the driver how close the hostel was to the beach and he responded, “not close at all.” This confused us since the website said that it was right on the beach and had a picture of a deck overlooking the sun setting on the shore. Luckily this was an easy preparation to the “TIA-ness” of our trip – your expectations will only be met to a certain point, after all, this is Africa.

We arrived at our hostel and quickly made our way to food and the beach. The beach was beautiful and the weather was wonderful. The four of us were very excited to be beginning our two week backpacking adventure and this beach was the perfect place to start. After the previous week of tests and papers we were all happy to relax with our books and iPods in the sand. A few times we made our way into the water, which was unbelievably warm and clear. We explored the beach a little. We found a rocky inlet near a popular surf spot. The waves crashed there creating huge pools of warm water and waterfalls of foam.

We had dinner in an area that they called the Boardwalk. It wasn't on the beach and it didn't resemble any boardwalk I've been to in the States, but dinner was good. We headed back to the hostel early to shower and prepare for another early start. Exhausted, we were all asleep by 8:30 on our first night!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Quickly - P.E., JBay & PBay

We're now on the third stop of our 2 week trip. It's a lot of fun so far and things have been going really well. I don't really have time to write too much, as it's costing me per minute, but we're alive and really enjoying our trip. I have a lot of pictures to post when I get the chance. Backpacking is a pretty crazy lifestyle and I'm glad that the trip isn't too long, but I'll be backpacking here again, I hope. Today we're off to Wilderness in the mountains near the Indian Ocean and some rivers. I think we may kayak to some waterfalls. It should be beautiful. I'll try and write again soon.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Quick post -

Tomorrow morning at 8:30am Grace, Sonya, Ryan and I (all WAC kids) will embark on our 2 week backpacking trip down the Garden Route to Cape Town. We will be stopping in 5 beach towns and one "wilderness" town (called Wilderness) along the way. We will be shark diving on March 20 in Hermanus, outside of Cape Town. We will then spend a week in Cape Town and return to Grahamstown on March 30. I am very excited for this trip. I will try and post along the way and will certainly take plenty of pictures.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Happy Days!

Saturday I went skydiving. It was unbelievable. It's something I've always wanted to do and I figured where better than South Africa? It was the most amazing thing I thing I've ever done. The adrenaline rush was unreal. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I did it tandem and my instructor was crazy. After everything he said he smiled with his thumbs up and said, "happy days!" I got a DVD of me doing the training, the flight and the jump and the whole thing is filled with lots of thumbs up and "happy days!"

Friday Grace and I were back at Nyaluza at the request of Sanele. We helped with the photo project that Jason's doing. I interviewed the kids on paper, while Grace interviewed them on film. Jason posted the interviews I did online here. The kids told me some really incredible stuff. The assignment from Jason was for them to read to me a passage from their journal. The idea comes from Freedom Writers. These kids wrote about some really powerful issues, I encourage everyone to read them. Also, it will give you a good feel for the amount of English these kids know in grades 9, 10, 11 and 12. It's astonishing.

After Nyaluza we walked through the township with Jason and some students to Eluxolweni, the shelter for street children. Most of the kids were playing soccer in a field across the street, so Grace and I got a little bit of breathing room before all of the kids came back. I got to speak with Bramwell, one of our favorite boys, for awhile. He's 16 and very funny. He was wearing a T-shirt with drawings on the back. I asked him if he had done these drawings, as they were very good and excitedly he told me yes and offered to show me more. Bramwell and I sat on the stoop while he showed me his inspiration book and drawings. We agreed that next time we're up there (this Friday), he'll draw a portrait of me and I'll draw one of him. I also promised to bring him nice drawing paper and color to use. I'm excited to see what comes of this.

We spent a little time at Eluxolweni with the kids. They were fun, funny and adorable as usual. Once it was getting late Jason selected a few to walk us back safely. The seven of us began the trek to Jason's part of town. Along the way they sang to us. They have the most beautiful voices. It was very nice. Bramwell joined us and he joked with Jason about how heavy is bag was (the boys help Jason carry his bags home since they are full of very valuable things. i.e iPod, laptop, camera, etc.). Bramwell had me cracking up. We made a stop at the BP for Jason to use the ATM and as we stood outside we talked to the boys about life in South Africa. Bramwell admitted to hating white people, a theme for the day. Again I was ashamed, although he does not consider us to be the same as the whites he hates because we're American. I was ashamed of the way these kids have been treated and the things they have witnessed that lead to them hating an entire race.

Once we arrived at Jason's place he had the boys walk us the rest of the way to campus so we could get used to being around them and build up some trust since Jason is leaving in a few weeks. We walked past one of the upper class, local prep schools. The kids stared at us as we sauntered past joking, singing and dancing. I was so proud to be with these kids, while the children on the other side of the fence were probably appalled. By the end of our walk, though, I found out first hand that it's not only whites that don't want racial interaction, but blacks are accusing toward their own race.

We were coming near campus when we all noticed an older black man following us closely. He began speaking to two of the boys that we a little further behind than Grace and me. I was holding the hand of the youngest boy and began holding tighter and walking faster. This was the only time thus far that I've actually been frightened in South Africa. After an exchange in Xhosa Grace and I demanded to know what it was that this man was saying to the boys. The boys then explained that the man wanted to know if the boys were robbing us, when they answered no he accused them of begging from us, or bothering us. I felt a rush of emotion. I was scared, embarrassed for the boys, ashamed of the current state of mind in South Africa. I couldn't believe that a black man would hold the same ignorant mindset of many white South Africans. Any time a group of black boys are with white people they have to be begging or committing a crime. What really perplexed me was that I was holding one of their hands! Why would I hold someone's hand if they were trying to steal from me?! Unfortunately this is all a shocking reality of life in South Africa. One of the Nyaluza kids that Grace interviewed admitted to the camera that "apartheid isn't over." This is something that any outsider can see instantly, but many of the kids that I interviewed didn't have that kind of insight. They are convinced that people here have equal rights. You can walk down High Street any day of the week and see the inequality.

Saturday morning we got to witness the extreme differences in the lives of whites and blacks. A taxi bus picked up four of the WAC kids from the beauty of Rhodes and we drove a few miles up the hill toward the Township. Although Grace and I have seen parts of the township already we got to see a lot more. We drove around and got to see different landmarks and a few different areas of the township. The township itself is sprawling. I was surprised about how big it is. When I was flying above Grahamstown getting ready to jump out, I noticed this, too. The township could easily be double the size of the rest of Grahamstown. We picked up a township resident and he drove with us and showed us somethings like his gym, his schools and his church. He seemed proud of where he lives. He seemed most proud when we got to tour his house. He lives in a self-built mud hut behind his sister who kicked him out for having too much ambition. It was a lovely one room house. He had his cats, his bed and his computer - all I would need. He made it himself, literally out of mud. He was very humbled by our compliments. This was the first township house I have visited.

Yesterday I had an art history field trip to Hamburg, South Africa, a small coastal village about 2 hours away. All 50 of us piled onto the AC-less-coach-bus in the 111 degree heat. Luckily I was able to sleep both ways, so it wasn't too bad. We went to Hamburg to see a cross-stitching project that has been started in Hamburg to help alleviate poverty in the area. Women get paid to stitch for the foundation and then the items are sold. Some huge projects are commissioned up to 100 people might work on it. Currently an altar piece they did is on display at the National Cathedral in Washington DC. That was exciting to hear about. The organization also does a lot to help with HIV/AIDS and there is a clinic in Hamburg that is decorated with wonderful mosaics made by the artists. The women were very sweet and their work was beautiful, but with the heat and being so close to the sea we couldn't help but go to the beach. We all were shuttled down the the beach in cars and we treated with lunch on the beach. It was lovely. Unfortunately I was unaware of the beach plan and wasn't wearing or carrying an adequate amount of sunscreen so I now have a sunglass burn on my face. It's not too bad though, although I do kind of look like an idiot. It was a really nice field trip and nice to get out of Grahamstown for a little and see more of South Africa.

We have our Easter break in 2 weeks so at that point we're going to travel for the entire break (2 weeks). I think we're taking the Garden Route to Cape Town from Port Elizabeth on the Baz Bus. It should be interesting, but I'm really looking forward to it. I am not, however, looking forward to all of the work I have to do before then. It's hard to remember that I'm here for school and not for all of the other stuff I want to do. Not even going to the bars, but volunteering even. I'd rather hang out with those wonderful boys from Eluxolweni than do my work any day. Unfortunately, you can't factor volunteer hours into a GPA, so I'll still have to do some work!