Thursday, March 31, 2011

“Live your life for this moment because this moment is your life”

new photos on facebook:

First Album on Facebook (first half of the trip)

Kruger National Park Pictures!

This year is going to be a tough one to beat.  In the past 13 days since turning 21, I have driven across South Africa in a 19 passenger overland truck, gone bungy jumping off of the world’s highest bungy, been to some of the most beautiful beaches and towns I have ever seen, swam in the Indian ocean, and been to one of Africa’s most famous national parks. 

I could probably write a book about these past 2 weeks, but I’ll try to keep it short. 

My 21st birthday was incredible.  I spent the day on the beach at Camps Bay, the first time I have ever been to the beach on my birthday in my life.  It was a perfect beach day and it was totally worth skipping class and service… you only turn 21 once!  Then my fantastic housemates and I went out to a bar down the street for a St. Patrick’s Day fundraiser with tons of raffles and games.  It was definitely a good way to get the night started.  Next we went into Cape Town to go to the Dubliner, the big, two story Irish pub in town, which was packed to the brim with green beer drinking, vuvuzela blowing, imitation Irish people.  It was tons of fun, but all the celebrating made the 6:30 wake up the next day a little difficult.

The next morning, we all piled in to our home for the next 9 days, a huge overland truck with 523,000 kilometres (about 325,000 miles for those of you who aren’t on the metric system) on it, which would (hopefully) carry us across South Africa ultimately ending at Kruger National Park.  We began our journey with a largely uneventful full day of driving, arriving in Knysna, our first stop on the Garden Route at around 4 pm that day.  We went up to the viewpoint, where we had our first real view of the Indian Ocean, it was incredible and all I wanted to do was go for a swim, but it was getting dark so instead we swam at the hostel when we got back.

Saturday morning we woke up and went for a morning walk to the beautiful Knysna waterfront and then hit the road for our next stop: Face Adrenaline Bungy- the Guinness World Record’s highest commercial bungy in the world.  We walked out onto the Bloukrans bridge to the tune of pumping techno music and a huge dance party that ultimately ended in us jumping/being pushed off of the bridge- not your average dance party.  I had no worries about it at all…until I was all harnessed up and standing at the edge of the bridge with my bare toes hanging over the edge.  “5,4,3,2,1…BUNGY!” and I was gone.  Flying through space- one of the most surreal feelings in the world. It felt just like it does in dreams except I wasn’t sleeping.  It was the most exhilarating feeling in the world. 

Next, we all piled back in the truck for the drive to Cintsa, to stay at Buccaneers backpackers on the Wild Coast.  It’s called the Wild Coast for a reason: it is virtually untouched except for a few backpackers and houses sparsely scattered along the miles and miles of beachfront.  We didn’t get to see too much that night, as we arrived pretty late, but we woke up early then next morning and went for a long walk on the beach and I also went for my first swim in the Indian Ocean.  It felt so good to get into water that wasn’t freezing cold, like it is in Cape Town.  We went back to the room and found the biggest spider I have ever seen in the bathroom.  It was the size of my face. So I had a photoshoot with it.

We left Cintsa for the drive to Coffee Bay, another stop on the Garden Route.  We turned off the main road onto a roughly paved road that we had to go extra slow on because the Transkei Big Five (cows, donkeys, goats, sheep, and horses) were EVERYWHERE.  We were officially in rural Africa.  There were definitely more animals than cars on the road during our two hour drive to the hostel.  We arrived in the teeny town of Coffee Bay around 4 and we checked into our rooms at Coffee Shack and went to the beach.  It was a little cloudy and then the sun started coming out as it was setting, making a rainbow over the water and a beautiful red sky opposite it. 

On Monday we woke up early and went down to the beach to continue sleeping.  We left the beach at 9 after a morning swim in the crystal clear water and went to get breakfast at the Kaleidoscope CafĂ©, a cool little hippy restaurant with fantastic food- it was also one of the only other places we could go to eat besides our backpacker, because the town is so tiny.  Then we went on a 10 km hike to Hole-in-the-Wall, a little island right offshore with a hole through the centre that the waves go through and create a rough white-water area.  We swam out the island, climbed on to it, and jumped off into the water, where you had to swim like crazy to prevent getting pulled back inside the hole and bashed against the rocks.  It was awesome.  We got a ride back to the backpacker from the staff in a big open-air safari truck, so we got to see more of the rural communities.  Our guide, Joseph, who grew up in the area kept us informed of the rituals and beliefs of the people in the area.  He also explained that his English is so good because he learned from the backpackers passing through.  Two words he used a lot were “Wow” and “Awesome.”  I realized he probably picked those up from the backpackers who have that reaction to everything they see at Coffee Bay.  Those are definitely two words that came to my mine a lot during my time there.

We headed to Durban the next morning after another morning swim.  We drove through the day and arrived in the big city, which seemed much bigger considering the last place we stayed only had about 10 buildings in town.  We spent the night in a cool “Real-World-esque” backpacker.  We were right down the road from the aquarium and waterfront- the closet thing to Disney World that I have seen yet in this country.  It was pretty awful to go from the least developed beach town ever to the most commercial place that I had been in months.  Durban’s beaches redeemed it though.  We went to the beach for a swim the next morning and the water was crystal clear and warm with perfect waves for bodysurfing.  After the beach, we headed to the Indian market and saw a whole new side of Durban.  There is a huge Indian population there and we walked through the markets with huge arrays of spices, curries, and goat heads for sale… It was interesting to say the least.

Our next stop was Johannesburg.   We did a pretty boring tour of all the cultural sites but I learned a lot.  We stopped at the Soccer City Stadium, built for the World Cup, followed by the Walter Sisulu memorial, the place where the Freedom Charter was drafter by Mandela and others.  Then we went to Soweto, the largest township in the country.  We visited the Regina Mundi Church, which played a key in the apartheid resistance movement, mainly through student uprisings.  We were shown the broken marble altar, and the bullet holes in the ceiling, which bear testimony to the inhuman acts performed by police during the uprisings.  We also visited the Hector Pieterson museum, homage to a 13-year-old boy who was the first student killed by police during the peaceful student protests.  Our final stop was the apartheid museum, which chronicled the history of apartheid from its early beginnings and ending in Nelson Mandela’s election as president.

After Joberg, we started our trek to our final destination- Kruger National Park.  Upon arriving and settling in to our thatched roof bungalows, we all jumped into the truck and went on our first game drive.  We saw vervet, baboons, kudu, and impala- a mildly uneventful game drive compared to what we saw during later drives.  We returned to camp by 6 because that’s when they lock the people in and the animals out, and had a big braai with everyone.  On Saturday we drove and saw kudu, waterbuck, warthogs, many different birds, hippos, zebra, giraffes, rare klipspringers, snakes, lizards, and a tortoise.  We also saw three of the Big 5: the Cape African Buffalo, white rhinos, and elephants.  After the sun had set, we went on a night safari with two huge spotlights to try to spot the nocturnal cats (lions and leopards).  We were not successful in seeing them but we did see an African Civet (little cat), 2 hippos out of water, and a pack of hyenas. 

The following day we saw a bunch of the animals we had previously seen, as well as vultures, chameleons, wildebeest, guinea fowl, and the almost extinct Southern Ground Hornbill, which is very inquisitive and therefore is killed easily by people and other predators.  Our guide, Jimmy was so knowledgeable about the plants and animals in the park and really helped to make the experience more informative. 

If you’re still reading this, congratulations! You have now read about the important parts of my trip… If not, I don’t blame you. That was much longer than I intended it to be.  My mom and Steve are also in Cape Town this week so sorry for the delays in photos/ blog posting etc.


Knysna Waterfront

Bloukrans Bridge
The Big Jump

Cinsta Beach

Tarantula the Size of My Face in the Bathroom

Bull Crossing the "Highway"

Coffee Bay Rainbow

Shellfish Harvester in Coffee Bay

Hike to Hole-In-The-Wall



Our Home 

Hungry Hungry Hippo

Elephants Crossing the Road in Front of Us

Hyenas on the Night Safari


Hey Mister

Map of our Route

Monday, March 14, 2011

We could be a truly compassionate country, where everyone was cared for, where no one went to bed hungry, where everyone mattered and KNEW they mattered. –Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu is the cutest little old man ever.  He giggles at his own jokes before anyone else, squeals from excitement when he has a new idea, and bounces around from his seat to the podium as if he were a sprite young boy.  We had the opportunity to be in the presence of this legendary individual twice this past week, on Wednesday during a speech at UWC, and on Friday in an intimate mass at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town.  His speech at UWC was his last as Chancellor of the university, and it was amazing to hear him discuss the events that took place during his 24 years with the university.  He discussed the major role that the school played in protesting apartheid, and the way the students and professors banded together to shut down the oppressive regime.  It was amazing how well he recalled the events as if they were yesterday, showing just how important they were to him in his life.  Here’s the link to the speech if you want to check it out.

We got to meet Tutu at an early morning mass on Friday.  I was expecting to walk into a packed cathedral, filled with hundreds of people, but instead we went to a side altar and sat in a square seating arrangement around a small altar.  There couldn’t have been more than 75 people there, and it was an amazing way to start the first week of Lent.  The Anglican mass was pretty similar to the Catholic masses I have attended, and when it was time to offer peace to one another, Tutu shook hands with each person individually, offering us peace.  He also gave communion to every person, and took a picture with our group after mass.  Seeing this Nobel Peace Prize laureate twice in two days was a completely surreal experience.

This week was also super exciting at my site.  While I was talking to Mrs. Ludidi on Tuesday, I asked her whether she had any programs or projects that she had ever wanted to do but wasn't able to do.  She told me she had always wanted to start a spelling bee at the school, and send the winners of the Zimasa spelling bee to the big Cape Town spelling bee.  We decided to work together to write up a formal proposal to give to the principal for our idea.  Mrs. Ludidi picked a date for the spelling bee- April 14th, a Thursday so that I could be there.  She also talked with the principal to arrange a big tent to be set up outside so that the parents and families of the students can attend.  The kids are all super excited- they have already started studying the material for it and I’m trying to incorporate the vocabulary into my English lesson plans.  I think I might be more excited for the spelling bee than the kids are…

This weekend was also really exciting for me.  We were supposed to go paragliding on Saturday, but it was cancelled due to the strong winds.  Instead, a group of us headed back to Kalk Bay, my favourite town, to do some more exploring.  We spent the afternoon walking around, making friends with little kids on the beach, watching the seals, and talking to an old fisherman named Joey who had some awesome stories to tell, some of which I imagine were a bit exaggerated.  He told us how they caught a great white while they were fishing offshore and they brought it back after hours of trying to get it in the boat.  When they arrived at the dock, they unloaded the shark, cut open its stomach and Joey laid down inside of it and they closed him up inside the shark guts.  Could totally be true, seeing that there are great whites everywhere, and that seal island (where most of shark week is filmed) is only a few miles away.  I have this feeling that his stories were a bit embellished… I guess fishermen are the same everywhere.  Anyway, Joey told us he would take us out on his boat one day to see seal island…we will see what happens. 

On Sunday, a big group of our housemates went abseiling and kloofing on a huge private estate.  We went with a guide who is friends with our landlord and he took us down 6 beautiful waterfalls, as we followed the river downhill.  At the second waterfall we were allowed to go kloofing (cliff jumping) from various different heights on the rocks.  There was a super deep pool at the bottom, and the water was beautiful, in fact it was so pure that we drank from it all day.  It was such a cool experience, but unfortunately the photos just don’t do it justice.  We arrived back at the house around 8, and we were all completely exhausted and ready for bed.  Weekends here tend to tire me out a lot.  It’s awesome. 

I'm posting some pictures below, here is the public link to my Facebook albums so even if we aren't friends on Facebook, or even if you don't have a Facebook, you can still see the pictures in the albums: 
The Week in Review - I will be uploading more pictures from abseiling once I finish this paper!

Big week ahead- midterm papers due, my 21st birthday, and leaving for our mid-semester trip/safari across South Africa on Saturday.

Until next time. 

Desmond Tutu at UWC

"We are all reaching for the stars. We have not reached them yet... but it is a goal we are about to reach"

Our little friends we met at the beach

Old Man and the Sea

Colorful Boats in Kalk Bay

Kalk Bay Fishing Fleet

Storytime with Joey


The Open-Air Fishmarket

Seals Playing By The Dock

Rosalina- as she is called by the locals


Sunday, March 6, 2011

“We must learn to follow our hearts- not to pull them.”

It has been another eventful week in Cape Town.  Last Sunday, the majority of our house visited the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens to go to the summer concert series, held at the open-air amphitheatre.  We had never heard of the performers, but we all ended up having a great time at the concert, singing and dancing along with the rest of the crowd.  The gardens were also beautiful, but unfortunately we didn’t have nearly enough time to see everything we wanted to see, so I will definitely be going back. 

My time at Zimasa this week was also amazing.  I feel like I am finally beginning to find my place there, and the kids are really starting to warm up to me.  They love playing the games I have been showing them, something they don’t often get to do with their normal teachers.  I was playing a vocabulary game with them on Thursday when Ms. Ludidi walked in to check on our progress.  She watched the game for a little and then started playing with them.  After it was over she came up to me and said that my games were a great way to get the students involved and that she wanted to learn some more from me, to improve her teaching.  It felt really good to be able to teach her something, especially because she has been teaching me so much about these kids and their situations at home. 

On Wednesday, Alena, Catherine and I went to Alena’s service site, Gender Dynamix for a talk about the definition of masculinity and what gender means in society.  It was actually really weird for me at the beginning because I have never been to an event put on by the LGBTI community, but I ended up learning so much.  I actually got the quote that is the title of this post, from one of the transgender men who was speaking during the discussion, and one of the main things I learned from the meeting was that love comes in literally EVERY form.  People say Cape Town is like San Francisco, because it is super liberal and accepting of people of all types.  The people in the room for this discussion captured that idea perfectly.  There were people who were black, white, coloured, transgendered, gay, straight, English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, and probably a whole bunch of other sub groups.  It was amazing to listen to these people and their stories, and I definitely feel like I have a much more comprehensive view of Cape Town as a result.  The following day we also attended a film screening of “Cape Town: Mother City?” which discussed the issue of homelessness within the area.  It was actually a pretty poorly produced film, but it did a good job of shedding light on an issue that is prevalent in the area.  This film also helped to make me more knowledgeable about Cape Town.

This weekend our whole group headed to Hermanus for a weekend at a retreat centre called Volmoed- meaning “full of courage” in Afrikaans.  On the way, we drove along the coast, on some of the most beautiful roads that I have ever been on.  On the way, I was looking out at the ocean and I saw a whale spout and pointed it out to the car.  We watched as it breached a few times, then disappeared out of site as we rounded the corner.  Right after we saw a troupe of baboons walking down the wall along the road.  So cool.   When we arrived at Volmoed, we met John De Gruchy, the author of the book Reconciliation: Restoring Justice, which we were supposed to read before we got there… although the majority of the group, including myself did not finish it.  Oops.  After introducing ourselves he sent us off to explore the property, which was spectacular.  While walking around, we stumbled along the meditation grotto and while we were admiring its beauty we heard a strange noise on the hill.  It was a huge troupe of about 20-25 baboons running about and screaming at each other, just on the other side of the river.  I sat down and watched them, fascinated at how humanlike their habits and interactions were.  We had a big family dinner, and then went out to lie on the grass and watch the stars, which were crystal clear because it was a new moon.  We saw a bunch of shooting stars and it was an awesome experience. 

Saturday morning we woke up in the dark at 5:15 to hike up the mountain to watch the sunrise.  It took us about 45 minutes to get to the top, and watching the sunrise from the top of a mountain was surreal.  It was so different from watching it on the beach at Fairfield or Montauk, but still so awesome, because we could see the water in the distance.  After that, we had our first meeting with John and discussed the basics of the book and the role that reconciliation and justice played in South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  After our meeting we went into town and shopped around, then found an awesome tide pool with a bunch of sea stars and anemones inside it, which was so much fun for me (nerd!).  Then we went to lunch at the most amazing restaurant on the rocks right next to the water, and had a great meal.  The waiter told us that from June-December the whales come so close that people can feed them from their tables. CRAZY.  We will definitely be going back in June during the peak season.  We were then picked up from town and went back to have another session with John to discuss the book more in depth.  After that, we did a 15-minute hike to the waterfall, and went for a refreshing swim in the water there.  We then walked back to the house and set off for another mountain hike, this time on the mountain overlooking all of Volmoed and the neighbouring vineyards.  When we returned to the house, dinner was ready and we all enjoyed another amazing family dinner with lots of laughs. 

Today, we were supposed to wake up early and hike to the sunrise again, but it was really cloudy when we woke up so we went back to bed for a bit.  When I woke up I went out on a hike up the mountain, to reflect on my time and do a little journaling.  On my way up the mountain, I passed the meditation hut and stopped in to check it out.  While in there, I actually picked up the Bible and brought it up the mountain with me.  Now, most of you who know me know that I have never read the Bible in my life, but for some reason I just felt like maybe now would be the time to start.  So I got to the top of this beautiful mountain and spent 2 hours journaling and reading the Bible.  If you told me on Friday that I would be doing that on Sunday, I would have called you crazy.  But I did it. And it was awesome.  One quote that I pulled from my mountaintop reading that really hit home for me was: “love never gives up and its faith hope and patience never fail” (I Corinthians 13:7).  It just linked up perfectly with Charlie’s talk about love and the weekend that we had spent discussing reconciliation. 

Volmoed seems to have some supernatural energy within it, which seems to heighten your senses, while also making you feel at peace with everything around you.  It is truly an unbelievable place.  Our final session with John was the best.  He talked about the role of God and religion in daily life and tied it into the importance of God in forgiveness and reconciliation.  It was the perfect way to end an amazing weekend at one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.  I think we all needed that time to relax, reflect, and rejoice about our experiences in Cape Town thus far, and to help mentally and spiritually centre ourselves for the weeks ahead. 

Beautiful Roads Along The Ocean

One of Many Baboons in the Area 

Meditation Grotto


Dawn over the Water

Sunrise over the Mountains

Volmoed Cross at the Peak of the Mountain

Tide Pools in Hermanus

Alena and I at the Waterfall

Scary Skies in the Morning

Lily Pads Covering the Lake