Tuesday, January 31, 2012

South Africa in a nutshell - WITH ADDED PICTURES

New and improved -- now with pictures!!I'm not going to say too much about our time in South Africa because I already have SO MUCH to say about Kenya, but I wanted to get something out...

I am currently in an internet cafe (no internet in the village) and it's not letting me post pictures, so the next few posts will be write-ups/narratives. Which is actually good, because I've been slacking on my writing. Including pictures allows me to be lazy with descriptions - now you'll have to rely on your own mental images. As soon as I am able, I will catch up on photos and do some picture- heavy posts (or links.) But I digress... NOTE - I have just added some pix... see below

After Zim, we spent a week in Cape Town - for fun. It's the first time I've been there as a tourist rather than doing some kind of work (teaching in the townships in 2000, working on a Fulbright project in 2005.) CT is a spectacular city with much to do and is very kid friendly. We stayed near the beach in Muizenberg and spent days frolicking in the ocean (though the water wasn't warm enough to linger in and it was a bit too windy...), taking walks along the coast, playing on the waterslides and tidal pools, trying our hands at mini-golf (Z's new obsession,) etc. We also took the train into town and went up Table Mountain, did a hop-on, hop-off bus tour, hung out at Camp's Bay (site of tear-inducing freezing waters and the kiddy romance highlighted in the previous post), went to the waterfront (seal watching, ferris wheel riding, harbor touring on Tommy the Tugboat, visiting the aquarium,) took a canal tour in an open boat christened 'The Weedman.' and took a tour to Cape Point / Cape of Good Hope and Boulder's Beach to see the penguins. Yes, we were definitely tourists.


CT was as lovely and scenic as I remember and remains, in my and many others' opinion, one of the world's most picturesque cities. Aslo, it seemed amazingly affordable after Zimbabwe. We stayed at a funky guest house run by the affable and eccentric Dion and met several other travellers of interest. One night, I was out on the porch conversing with the other adults while Zavi watched Ben Ten (his other new obsession) in the TV room. He must have gotten bored, because by the time we joined him in the lounge, he had managed to find himself some toilet paper and teepee the whole room. I guess he's ready for high school pranks already...

Other highlights of CT included seeing some old friends - including Erin, a friend I met 11 years ago in Senegal (and hadn't seen since,) and Andre and Tammy - friends from Highline. So good to see them all. Tammy was nice enough to take Zavion and I to a township with a local friend of hers. I had really wanted Z to experience going to a township, but I wasn't sure how to go about arranging it. When Tammy offered, we were happy to take her up on it. THANKS!! The experience definitely affected Zavion and he has asked questions about it since. 'Mom, why do so many people live in such tiny houses'? 'How can people be so happy when they don't have a TV'? Etc. While our time in CT was mainly recreational, I'd have felt I was doing him a disservice NOT to expose him to the townships and the 'other side' of Cape Town (though one look at his face after surfacing from catching a great bodysurfing wave, or after scoring a hole in five at putt-putt made me realize he didn't feel the least bit slighted.) Though I didn't really go into the details of Apartheid (how much can a not yet 5 year old who has his own racial identification issues to deal with take?), there are some messages that I want him to get from our time in Africa. (Our time so far in Kenya is certainly helping in these regards.) I wrote a lot about the history and details of Apartheid (and my thoughts on it) during the Fulbright trip in '05, so I won't bother you with that now (notes available upon request :) ) (Wow- how many times can I use parentheses in one paragraph?)

I really enjoyed having some one on one Zavion and Mommy time again - it had been awhile! And, while I know he missed his cousins, we still have so much fun together and it was wonderful. He continues to be an amazing traveller.

Our next adventure was a week traveling into Kruger and the Blyde RIver Canyon with Todd, Tanya and Olivia (friends from Seattle.) After an uneventful flight from CT to Johannesburg, we met up with them at the airport and stuffed ourselves and our bags into a rental car. Todd and I were to be the drivers while Zavion and Olivia provided the comic relief. Olivia is seven and adorable and Zavion was in heaven hanging out with her (yes, I believe he has a crush!) We all had a great time together - thanks for letting us come along, T and T!!

We drove into the mountains for our first night together. And it rained all night. We skipped going to the canyon the next morning because it was still pouring and, instead, headed straight to Kruger- spotting a few animals through the deluge on the way. And it rained all night again. The next day, after sharing our breakfast with some cheeky vervet monkeys and while it was still raining continuously, we drove further into the park and tried to spot some game. We did see some zebras and elephants (and, of course, the ubiquitous impala,) but mostly, we saw rain. And puddles. We tried leaving the paved roads, but turned around after encountering rushing water on our first dirt road adventure. (Turns out that turning around was the best decision we could have made!) We drove through more incessant rain and negotiated more puddles and potholes and mentioned several times how high the water was getting in the rivers and how close the water was to the road/bridges. We made it to our next camp just in time. Less than an hour after we arrived, we were told that the water had, in fact, taken over the bridges and all roads were closed. Several people were trapped at our camp while their stuff was still at other camps (they had just come out for a day of game-driving,) others never made it to camp or into the park at all and others were caught out between bridges and had to be airlifted out! We were actually quite lucky. We checked into our hut and were given the evacuation details should the water rise much more (several huts WERE evacuated.) And it rained all night again. We didn't make it out the next day, either... though we were able to game drive for a few miles in either direction on the paved road. We did have some good animal sightings and marvelled at the swollen river and where the roads going over the river were supposed to be (they were currently UNDER the river or washed away completely.)

Not so warm...

Like the horns?

This is the road we were supposed to take.... Yea, not so much

Building a nest

It finally stopped raining that afternoon and, gasp, we even saw some stars!! By the next day, we could travel north as one of the bridges re-opened (though it was nerve-wracking crossing the damaged bridge - with washed out portions and guardrails bent like spaghetti.) One of the picnic stops had been underwater just the day before and was full of debris (and more cheeky monkeys) and the waterline in the bathrooms was up to my armpit! It doesn't bode well when you find the toilet seat buried in mud OUTSIDE of the bathrooms... We slowly learned the details of the floods - 600 mm of water fell in 48 hours (for comparison, the region averages 300mm of rain ANNUALLY!) There were several washed out roads, many deaths in the area and untold numbers of people who lost their homes. All in all, we were really lucky.

Zavion and Olivia were troopers throughout, played and played, got along great and were really amazing! Even though the game viewing wasn't as good as usual due to the floods and limited road openings, we all enjoyed the animals that we did see (zebra, giraffe, antelopes of all sorts, elephants, rhinos, hippos, crocs, lizards, baboons, vervet monkeys, jackals, buffalo, genet, etc.) and everyone's favorite was the lions - lazing around a wildebeest carcass after filling themselves on the kill. Alas, no cheetah, leopard or hyena sightings, but we were still happy :):)

We drove out of the park that evening (the first day that it was even possible) and stayed at a rest camp near Hoodspruit. Just getting to the camp was an adventure- the road had been badly damaged and negotiating our 2WD minivan was challenging (good job, Todd!) Andre, the camp's owner, was happy to see people as they had been without visitors (or electricity) for days. He showed us how far the water had come up and which cabins were damaged and had to be emptied out. We stayed in a ronduval that had escaped any damage and the kiddos had a great time playing with the resident pups. The sun was out and we had a nice walk around the grounds. We made it to Blyde RIver Canyon the next day, after checking out some destroyed bridges and more flood damage. Man, mother nature is impressive! The canyon was beautiful, though the river was brown rather than it's usual emerald green. We had a nice picnic, hiked around a bit, etc. We stayed in a funky backpackers' place that evening, the kids played in the pool and I tried to salvage my sneakers that stunk to high heaven after walking through flood waters (I failed - the sneakers have since been disposed of.)

This WAS a bridge (pre-flood) - yes, people were stranded...

These two had so much fun!!

Todd and Tanya had to change plans as they were originally going to head into Mozambique for some beach time. Well, Mozambique was affected by the same floods that hit Kruger and going there was no longer an option. So, they drove back to Johannesburg with us and flew down to Durban to enjoy the beach there. Z and I stayed one night in a hotel near the airport in Jo'burg and then flew to Kenya the next morning. That was Monday, 1/23. We are now in Kenya - volunteering in a small village - and I'll be writing about that soon....

Phew. Ok, so that wasn't as brief as I'd hoped and I apologize again for the lack of pictures. I'll get to those as soon as I can, I promise... there are some great animal shots, scenery photos, pix of the kiddos and the flood damage.

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