Monday, April 21, 2008

Overdue Update

I've been back in Grahamstown for awhile now, but have been drowning in a wave of laziness. I don't know why my problem is, but I've been very lazy. It's been nice being back. I've been to the Raphael Centre a few times now and everything is going very well. We're just waiting for the large package of donations from home to arrive. When the package comes I'll finally get to start the photography project which will be exhibited at the National Arts Festival. Finally everything is coming together. We titled the exhibit "Defined by Four Letters," and hope that it will make the impact we want it to.

Also, we finally got back up to Nyaluza and Eluxolweni on Friday. They've been out of school so last week was their first day back. Grace and I headed up to Nyaluza to find out about helping out around school since Jason's gone now. We then were told that we were need to teach English, Life Orientation, and History/Geography. Needless to say we were pretty overwhelmed. I think we'll be starting Friday, we're just waiting for Mr. Mushwana (the principal) to give us the teacher's guides. It's such a surreal idea, me in front of a classroom. I can barely take myself seriously, I don't know how to get them to take me seriously. We were also told that we will need to prepare the kids for their big exams in June. That's pretty nerve wracking.

After we left the school on Friday we met up with some of the students we knew through Jason. We got to walk with them for awhile and catch up. It was nice spending time with them again! Grace and I headed up to the shelter to see the kids. We haven't seen them in forever. Luckily the were all there. It was amazing seeing them again. We spent awhile there listening to music, dancing, talking, cracking jokes. It was great. I really missed those kids. There were a few new kids and a few kids who have left. We got permission to come up every Friday after we're done at Nyaluza. It will be great. We plan to play games and listen to music. It's a lot of fun hanging out with them.

Aside from the volunteering I haven't been doing too much. I'm only taking Art History and my WAC Course now, so I've had a few papers to do, but not much other than that. Weekends are great, I really look forward to them. This past weekend Grace and I randomly met a kid who lived in NJ for awhile working as a camp counselor. It was great talking to him. He's the first person that I've met here so far that doesn't hate NJ. I don't know what the deal is. I certainly didn't think the stereotypes would follow me all the way here! I still get the "armpit of America" stuff here. It was nice to laugh about it with someone though.

Two weeks ago the WAC kids took a trip to Nieu Bethesda. It was fun and relaxing. Nieu Bethesda is an artist community about four hours away from here. It's famous for the Owl House, which was a pretty interesting place ( It was very beautiful, but rather spooky. We also got to see a lot of fossils. The fossils were pre-dinosaurs which was pretty mind blowing. They are unique to the Karoo (where we were) and prove a lot about the history of the world. Also, the farm where we stayed had old bushman cave paintings that dated back over 7000 years. That was incredible. It was amazing to see artwork that old that was just painted on the walls of a cave.

Other than that I haven't been up to too much, but hope to spice things up soon. We have one last WAC trip to Hogsback Mountain, which should be very nice, but cold. We also have a very long (almost week long) weekend coming up in a few weeks. We want to take a trip then to the beach perhaps. Up the coast a bit it's still warm enough to swim. In fact, in Durban, where we might go in June or so, you can swim all year. That's pretty wild. We're also hoping to plan a trip to Kruger Park during the week before exams. That will be our last big adventure before we go home. I don't want to leave South Africa without having seen Kruger.

Backpacking - Friday March 21 - Saturday March 29 - Cape Town

We arrived in Cape Town late in the evening. The Baz Bus drove us down Long Street to our hostel, Inn Long Street. Grace, Sonya, Ryan and I moved into our room and immediately opened the doors to the balcony off our room. It faced out into the buzzing night life of Long Street, the infamous party street of Cape Town. Alive with energy from our final destination we went out for dinner and drinks at the cafe across the street. Our energy didn't last long and we ended up in bed early as usual.

The next day we headed out to explore Cape Town as well as pick up somethings that were left in the Baz Bus back in Plettenberg. I approached a nice looking older couple on the street hoping for directions to the BazBus office, instead they kindly drove us. The office wasn't nearby and when we arrived we found out that the items that they thought were ours were not. We'd have to come back on Tuesday. We were angry and embarrassed. I couldn't believe that we had gotten this free ride and they didn't have our stuff. On our way back from the office we found a great African street market. There was so much to see. It was the first I've seen since being in South Africa. We were able to get a lot of gifts there. We relaxed for the rest of the day and went out for Indian food for dinner - our first ethnic food since being in South Africa.

Sunday was Easter so Grace and I got up early and headed to church. To our surprise we met a group of you American missionaries, one of whom was from New Jersey. It was nice to talk to them. I didn't enjoy the service at all, but it was nice to be in church on Easter. After the service we walked down Long Street looking for somewhere to have brunch. We found a great cafe for brunch across from the street market. Again we lazed around the rest of the day, reading/sleeping in the hammocks on the porch. For dinner we had Chinese - the first I've had since I've been here - it was delicious. It tasted so fresh! We even got to do some Sake Bombs, which apparently they don't do in South Africa.

Monday we lazed around some more and attempted to go out in the evening. It was a public holiday, Easter Monday, so not too much was going on.

Tuesday Grace and I had scheduled a winetour. We got up early and waited around for the person to pick us up. When he was extremely late in coming, the boy at reception called him to see where he was. The driver claimed he was never told to pick us up. We were not happy. Instead we headed down to the waterfront where we met up with Ryan and "Germany" who we had met in Mossel Bay. The waterfront was nice, but reminded us a lot of the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. Since we could now go to pick up our things from the BazBus office, Grace, Ryan and I walked down there to do so. The walk was very long and it was very hot. I wanted to kill someone. On the way we got to see the up-and-coming Cape Town soccer stadium for the 2010 World Cup. It's not coming along so well. We also got to see a big of the beach where we could see all the way to Robben Island (where we never got to go). Once we got to the office we actually got our stuff and headed back to Long Street.

Wednesday Grace and I were rescheduled for our winetour and headed out early to embark on that. It was all Americans and one Scot on our bus. The winelands were beautiful, surrounded by mountains. At our first stop we got to see where they keep the different kinds of wines. Then we learned how to do a proper tasting. Once we tried our first wine with the group we got a list and got to try six different wines from the list (although we tried a few more than that). Along with the wine tasting was a cheese tasting. The cheeses were very good, many were goats cheeses. At our next stop we did a seated tasting with a group. We did a lot of wines. I lost count. At the end we tasted the World Champion brandy. It was made at this vineyard. I did not enjoy that AT ALL. It burned and I thought for sure I'd have hair on my chest afterwards! I did purchase a few small bottles as gifts for people at home, though. Also, they had a little trivia contest at the end and the winner won a bottle of wine. I won at my table. The question was "what year did the brandy win the world championship?" 2003. I got a nice bottle of Rose. At our next stop we got to enjoy lunch. Mine was amazing. I had a lamb burger that is soaked in red wine. It was delicious. We tried a lot of sparkling wines there, but at that point I was not in the mood for wine any longer, I just wanted to eat. By our final stop I was finally sobering up, but was in no mood to continue trying wines, but they just kept on coming. It was not appreciated on my end. When we finally returned to our hostel we found out that we had to rush to go pick up our Greyhound tickets for our trip home. Grace and I raced down to do that, just before the office closed then enjoyed a dinner alone. Afterwards we headed down to an outdoor jazz festival where the African market usually is. We met up with "Germany" and spent the rest of the evening with him. He is a jazz lover so we had a lot of fun with him. When the concert was over we headed down to a pub across the street from our hostel. Every night we had heard cover bands playing great "white people music" as we call it - your normal cover band material: Build Me Up Buttercup, Brown Eyed Girl, 80s music. We decided to go check the place out. We ended up having a great time. The music was fun. There were a ton of people there. It ended up being a great night.

Thursday we headed up Table Mountain. We got a cab to the cable car, then took the cable car up to the top. Once we hit the top we all went our separate ways. I ended up walking the entire perimeter of the mountain. It was beautiful. I got to see the views from every angle. It was amazing. I could've stayed up there forever. I really enjoyed it. When we got back we had lunch and took naps. When I woke up I wasn't feeling very well but thought I was fine. Next thing I knew I couldn't keep anything in my stomach and was very sick. I ended up spending the rest of our time before going back to Grahamstown on Saturday out of commission. It was awful. I spent all of Friday, our last day in Cape Town in bed. I was not very happy. Being sick made me so homesick I thought I was going to die.

Saturday morning we had to get up at 5am to catch our Greyhound back to Grahamstown. I was still not feeling my best, but prepared myself for the 15 hour ride with crackers and ginger ale. I slept on and off most of the ride, but had a hard time keeping things down. It was a terrible, terrible experience. When we finally reached Grahamstown I don't think I could've possibly been happier. It was so nice to be back in "my" room and "my" bed. It was a dream come true.

The trip was amazing. I had so much fun and met great people. It was the experience of a lifetime, but it was nice to finally be immobile.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Backpacking - Friday March 21, Day 8 – Hermanus

We arrived in Hermanus late, but decided to grab dinner out at a nearby Italian restaurant. It was delicious. We were in bed early again, which was good since we had our shark dive first thing in the morning.

At 9am we headed out for our shark cage dive. A large van picked us up and we piled in. In the backseat I met a young boy with an American accent. I found out he was from Washington DC and was traveling South Africa for his spring break with his father, grandfather, older and younger brothers. We all got to talking and were excited about our impending dive. The boys were probably the smartest, most well-rounded kids I’ve ever met. They’ve been across the world, all over Asia and Australia; I was jealous.

We arrived at Shark Diving Unlimited right across from Shark Alley on the Indian Ocean – home to great white sharks. Shark Diving Unlimited has seen the likes of Brad Pitt, Leo DiCaprio and Prince Harry, so we were pretty excited. I got the chance to talk to one of the crew members who did the dives with all three guys and he had some interesting things to say. He hated Leo, saying that he was a rich brat. He said Brad was very down to earth, as was Harry. It was pretty cool.

When we got to the building we were served a fresh, hot breakfast. It was amazing. We ate as much as we could get in us before heading to the boat. The ride there was quick, but the sea was really rough and we were falling all over the place. The water was a beautiful turquoise color, surrounded by mountains. It was gorgeous. We made our way to the cage which was anchored and baited to keep the sharks around. We anchored next to the cage and the crew members attached the cage to the side of the boat. All of a sudden it was chaos across the deck as everyone was trying to get into wetsuits while the sharks were around. The cage held six, so the first six people ready got to get in. Grace was one of them. She jumped into the freezing water and waited while the sharks came back. They had a rope with fish heads attached that they threw out and pulled back to attract the sharks. As soon as one came near the crew yelled, “DOWN!” and the divers went under preparing to have an up close and personal view of the giant sharks.

When Grace’s group was done Ryan and I headed into the cage for our shot at seeing some sharkies. When we first got in someone yelled, “DOWN!” so down I went. The underwater experience was strange. It’s a cage, so there are places for your hands and feet, but the sharks charge the cage, so I didn’t want to come back up missing any fingers or toes. When the shark comes around it’s a bizarre experience; it’s so cold and quiet underwater and the shark is obviously aware that you’re there and there’s a blur between who is watching who. After our first viewing we waited for a very long time for another – something had startled the shark. It was freezing, but we were willing to tough it out for another sighting. When the shark finally came back we went under again. The beast whizzed past me and bit the cage on the right side (opposite me). I screamed underwater! It was amazing. After that we waited again, but nothing seemed to be coming so we got out of the cage and Sonya’s group went in.

After everyone got their fill of shark diving and the sharks stopped coming back, we cruised back to shore for lunch. Our hot lunch was delicious. When we arrived back at our hostel we unfortunately were unable to take a hot shower so we went shopping instead to pass the time before we took our final ride on the Baz Bus.

We boarded the bus at dusk and made the hour and a half drive to Cape Town. Just before entering the city we drove over a hill and the driver told us to look to our left – there was Cape Town, all lit up and waiting for us…

Backpacking - Wednesday March 19 and Thursday March 20, Day 6 and 7 – Mossel Bay

After kloofing we boarded the Baz Bus headed for Mossel Bay. On the Baz Bus I struck up conversation with a British man who had just done the bungee jump, I later found out that he stayed with Kevin and Chris and jumped with them, as well. He strongly encouraged me to do the jump. We had been on the Baz Bus with this guy between Plettenberg and Wilderness, and I sat with him again between Hermanus and Cape Town. We talked a lot and I found out that he's currently spending a year traveling the globe with his friend. They've been in Africa since the first week of January and are heading to India April 4th. From there they're going all over Asia, Australia, Europe, South America, then ending Time Square on New Year's Eve - we hope to meet up. He was a really interesting guy.

Between Wilderness and Mossel Bay the Baz Bus stopped for lunch at a mall – the first I’ve seen, and parked in the McDonald’s parking lot – also the first I’ve seen. We Americans refused to eat at McDonald’s so rushed to eat lunch at a cafĂ© instead.

When we arrived at Mossel Bay, we boarded the abandoned train that our hostel was housed in. The rooms are inside a stationary steam engine on the beach. It was very cool. Although the accommodations weren’t quite as nice as many of our others, it was very cool to sleep in a train on the beach. As we were unloading our things from the Baz Bus trailer I looked over to see a car pulling up with Kevin and Chris. We were shocked to see them, as we didn’t expect to see Kevin again until we got back to Grahamstown. We all ended up in the same dorm and the group of us headed down to the beach. After some lounging on the beach exchanging Dane Cook quotes we got showers and had dinner at the train. Then we got a cab to go to the nearby casino.

Grace, Sonya and Ryan got the first cab and I waited with Chris and Kevin for the next one. As we waited we met a nice German man named Stefan, or “Germany” as we now call him. We invited him to join us at the casino and we all spent a few hours there. I only gambled 10 rand and won 11, so I gained one rand. I was pretty proud of myself. The boys, on the other hand, did much better. Both Kevin and Chris were playing blackjack. Chris ended up losing over 500 rand, while Kevin was walking out up 200 rand. We called a cab and waited nearly 2 hours for it to come. Towards the end of our wait Chris told Kevin he was feeling lucky and they decided to place one bet on roulette. Five minutes later they both came back up another 200 rand each. We were pretty jealous. When the cab finally arrived we decided to pack the seven of us, plus the driver into an Audi sedan. It was a difficult task, but we managed. Grace had the most uncomfortable ride sitting in the front passenger seat on Germany's lap, face pressed into the windshield.

The next morning we had planned a boat ride to Seal Island, but due to weather conditions – it was pouring - we sat around and eventually went shopping instead. To get to town to go shopping we followed a shady set of railroad tracks blindly to a set of a stairs ending in town. This was all in the name of saving six rand (less than $1). Once there we hit a few cute little shops in Mossel Bay. One of the last places we visited was a large community art studio. I ended up talking to the owner who then introduced me to one of the artists, a young man from the local township who was heavy into drugs and crime before finding his talent as an artist. His work is upbeat and reflects township life through rose-colored glasses. He was a sweet, shy boy and I was really honored to meet him. I purchased a few pieces of his art. He, along with one other boy, gets the full profit for their work, rather than just a commission. I was happy to support him.

When we got back we grabbed a quick lunch and hit the Baz Bus again headed for Hermanus. The ride was long – about four hours – but they entertained us with a crappy movie. I attempted to sleep. We made one stop before getting off in Hermanus. Kevin and Chris continued on to Cape Town.

Backpacking - Tuesday March 18 and Wednesday March 19, Day 5 and 6 – Wilderness

Wilderness turned out to be just that – wilderness. It’s a very small down settled in the mountains, but still on the Indian Ocean, as well as a river. It was a very pretty town, but had very little to do, as we would found out.

After getting settled in we asked the front desk what we could do in the area. She encouraged us to walk up to the nearby National Park claiming that it, and the local town, was not far away. We made the long trek there to find that the trail was closed and that the water was a suspicious brown color, so we played cards and journaled instead of doing anything too exciting. When we decided to head back we thought it would be a good idea to go into town for dinner before it got too dark. Before we knew it we were walking for kilometer after kilometer with no town in sight. Eventually we made it, but the walk felt like forever. As we were enjoying our well-deserved pizzas the electricity went out for the daily load-shedding. We couldn’t believe our luck. By the time we finished dinner it was dark and we thought we should call a cab. We called a cab to pick us up and ended up waiting for almost an hour in front of the restaurant in the dark dressed like hobos and wrapped in our towels. We were turning away customers we looked so ridiculous. As we were standing there we noticed that “Jersey,” the couple we met back in J-Bay were at the restaurant, as well. We found this a lot on our trip, we’d run into many of the same people over and over. That was one of the coolest parts.

When the cab finally picked us up we made the three minute drive from the restaurant back to our hostel. When we pulled in the driveway the cabbie informed us that it would be costing us 90 Rand. We couldn’t believe it. A drive at least twice as long was a third of the price back in Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth. We were really ripped off and angry. The last two days weren’t really going too well for us!

In an attempt to be more social Sonya and I spent some time around the campfire. Sitting there I met a guy from Germany. He was in South Africa doing an internship for his studies as a doctor. We was doing surgery in a township hospital in Cape Town. He was so great to talk to. We talked a lot about township life, which we’ve both become too familiar with. It was great talking to someone who could relate and teach me about an aspect of township life that I knew nothing about. He’s studying orthopedics and he talked a lot about the diabetes statistics in the townships. He told me that 80% of amputations in township hospitals are diabetes related and the majority are above the knee because people go untreated for so long. He also said that they estimated that over 35% of township dwellers have diabetes and most go untreated. We talked for a really long time and he gave me suggestions about our next destination, Mossel Bay. We discussed Germany and America, and made lots of Borat references - he was a lot of fun. I also found out that before he decided to go into medicine he thought about being an art therapist. That was a really fun thing to discuss with someone. Unfortunately our time together was short, but he was definitely the most amazing person I met along the way.

The next day we woke up early for a morning of kloofing, something I’ve only heard of rarely in the States. It was a lot of fun and a great workout. First we squeezed ourselves into wetsuits and were then driven to the top of a mountain on a river. There were started hiking down the mountain to the river. The hike took about a half hour and was super hot. The wetsuits were not a great hiking accessory. It was strange to be wearing sneakers with wetsuits and since it was so hot we had the suits pulled down to our waists leaving our tops covered only by bikinis. It was an awkward hike. When we finally reached the water we were debriefed on how exactly to kloof - just make your way through the rocks and river however you can, and we got into the water.

It was freezing, but the wetsuits helped. We started off swimming then we had to do some climbing. It was so much fun! At some points there were rapids that sucked you through them. That was the best part. This waster was also the unnatural brown color, which we later found out was actually quite natural. It was colored by the same ingredient that makes tea brown - it looked and felt like a river of iced tea. It took us about three hours to make our way down the river. At several points we had relatively long distances to swim, which was awful in our ill fitting life jackets. We got to do some high jumps, too, which was really cool. I felt so free jumping from the top of these cliffs into the water on a gorgeous day in Africa. At one point we also encountered a waterfall that came straight down the gorge into the river. It was SO HIGH. We got to swim under it in the river and it felt like rain coming down. It was beautiful.

By the time we finished our kloofing adventure we came close to missing our Baz Bus to Mossel Bay, but made it just in time.

Backpacking - Monday March 17, Day 4 – Plettenberg Bay

The Baz Bus dropped us off before noon at Plettenberg Bay. The drive there was beautiful. We passed over a huge gorge which is home to the biggest bungee jump of some sort in the world (I plan on doing it before I leave). The view of P-Bay from the car was gorgeous. The beaches looked amazing and we couldn’t wait to get down there.

When we got off the Baz Bus at our hostel, Albergo, we ran into a few other Americans from Rhodes, including Tracie, the other American that lives in my res. We all quickly got ready, stopped for lunch and headed to the beach.

The beach was very touristy, but very pretty. It is an inlet surrounded by mountains. It was amazing. The water was so clear that no matter how far out Sonya and I swam we could see the bottom even if we couldn’t touch it. We swam for a long time and hung out on the beach reading and napping, as well.

On the way back from the beach we decided to have a braai so Grace, Kevin and I stopped at the grocery store to pick up meat and food for dinner, while Ryan and Sonya went back to the hostel. When we got back from the store and we were getting ready to start braaiing we found out that Sonya was really sick. She couldn’t keep anything down. Ryan and I headed back to the store to pick up stuff to make her feel better, while Kevin and Grace cleaned up. When Ryan went to pay for everything he found that he had no cash, it was all gone after leaving his wallet in the room while we were at the beach. When we got back to the hostel we found out that other people in our room were missing their money, too. It was a terrible feeling. Luckily all of our valuables like laptops, cameras and iPods were still there. To bring our spirits back up Kevin, Grace and I started braaiing. We invited a British boy, Chris, from our room to eat with us since Sonya wouldn’t be eating. It turned out that he’s on his gap year and he spent the previous two months teaching and coaching soccer in Tanzania. He had a lot of crazy stories.

Since it was St. Patrick’s Day we decided to join Chris and some other Brits and Irish people at the nearest bar. We enjoyed a few drinks and someone bought a round of shots for the bar. It was a fun night.

In the morning we found out that Kevin would be going back to the bungee jump with Chris and we’d meet up with him a day or two later. The rest of us spent the morning waiting for the Baz Bus and driving to Wilderness, our next stop.