Saturday, March 10, 2007

more South Africa

We have been very busy these couple of days, visiting the Cape of Good Hope and Robben Island. It is hot here, and I have the flaming red nose to prove it. Must remember to re-apply my sunscreen!

Yesterday, we paid a visit to one of the largest colonies of African penguins in Africa at Boulders Beach. These little, lively creatures hang out on the sand with beachgoers, barely blinking an eye at the children building sand castles nearby. I saw hundreds of penguins—hundreds! With the exception of an egg-stealing seagull, my visit with the penguins was peaceful and uplifting.

Following Boulders Beach, we drove to the meeting of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. The sights were magnificent, the wind strong and the sun bright. I could definitely understand why it is a perilous place for boats. It is certainly an awesome place, in the original sense of the word.

While hiking around the cape, we were accompanied by tons of baboons. They just hang out along the roads and trails, sometimes moving for the cars, other times making the cars move for them—a fair trade. All the signs say,” Baboons are dangerous and attracted by food.” Of course, most of the tourists still eat their chips and sandwiches out in the open anyway. One family experienced the baboon in a very direct way when the baboon stole chips right out of the hand of a two-year-old boy. Wide blue eyes followed the baboon’s fur-less butt as he ran to enjoy his booty. I learned a helpful German phrase which I repeated over and over as baboons passed me by,” Langsam weglaufen”—slowly walk away.

That evening, we saw a stunning sunset from Signal Hill, overlooking all of Cape Town and beyond, and enjoyed an ice cream cone. The sunset inspired a fun evening of wine, champagne and conversation.

Today, we visited Robben Island, the island prison of South Africa’s black, colored, and Asian political prisoners—including Nelson Mandela. The island is full of contradictions and dichotomies. Gorgeous scenery and active wildlife give the island a serene feeling, which is immediately displaced when the barbed wire and small jail cells come into view.

Our tour guides today were passionate teachers and informed us of the many injustices the prisoners endured. One of the guides is a former prisoner of 18 years who chooses to teach foreigners like us about this aspect of South African history. He believes that by teaching others about Robben Island, he is preventing the possibility of such things occurring in the future.

In the one week I have been in South Africa, I have been on two tours of tough places—places whose people have endured great hardships and challenges. The three men whose job it is to lead these tours have a deep, infectious passion for their country. South Africa, to them, is a work in progress with possibilities of greatness. While leading us on these tours and teaching their people’s tragedy, these men speak with ardor, wit and humor—making me both laugh and cry. So far, I think that most clearly expresses my feelings about South Africa—it makes me laugh and cry, and sometimes, it renders me speechless.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

South Africa: Part 3

For some reason, my computer or Blogger does not feel like uploading photos. I will try later today.

Yesterday, I finally met Alex's family. The big moment finally happened--and it went just fine. They are lovely, friendly and excited to practice their English. So far, most of our conversations involve German, broken English and broken German, but it seems to work out for all of us.

Because of wind, we could not go up Table Mountain yesterday so Alex and I showed his family around Cape Town instead. Later on in the day, Alex, his sister, her husband, and I climbed the Lion's Head. The climb was awesome, but similar to New Zealander, the South Africans perception of "easy" is quite different from us Americans. Still, the climb was a bit of a challenge and great workout. When I can post my pcitures, I will--they are worth seeing.

That evening, we all went out for seafood. They don't get much of that in Germany so it was a great treat for them. The prawns here are to die for! Then, for Alex's mom's birthday, we drank champagne and red wine, continuing our dual-language chat.

All in all, a good day. Today, we are heading to the Cape of Good Hope. Hopefully, penguins and dolphins are in the near future!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Cape Town is fascinating. I am still gathering my thoughts about it so I am not going to share too much now, but this place is really amazing. Yesterday, Alex and I walked all over the city, taking in gardens, museums and people. Cape Town is full of people, full of life, full of variety. There are 11 national languages--all of which you can choose from when at the ATM! Walking around, I have seen people of all shapes, sizes and colors. It is a lovely thing to see but sadly, so very foreign to me.
Today, we visited a couple of townships outside of Cape Town. There is a tour company in Cape Town that offer tours to the townships, using its profits to give back to those communities. I have never, ever seen anything like it. Some of you have traveled around the world and have seen what I saw today, but this was my first time. I was moved--still processing it all, so for now, here are my photos from the day.

These tenement type buildings are refered to as hostels. The above hostels are brand new and much more spacious for the families. One family per unit where they actually have a bathroom, and multiple rooms. The below hostels are really stunning. Each unit houses up to SIX famillies. The unit has six rooms (one for each family), a common space used for cooking, sleeping and eating and a washroom. The unit we visited held an unknown number of people, but we do know that one family had ELEVEN members living in ONE room!
The "informal" township is a shanty town. Oddly enough, the shanties are more spacious for the families. There is a large building project happening in the townships where they are razing the shanties to be replaced with small huts, very similar to those built by Habitat for Humanity.

This kindergarten was formed by the funds provided by Grassroutes Tour Company, our guide for the day. These little people were brimming with life and just a joy to be with.

This is Tavern Alley in Langa Township. Our tour guide brought us to a local pub owned by three lovely women. We sat in a circle and tried the local beer made from corn, milk, wheat...or some combination similar.

Sheep heads are serious business in Langa and other townships. Women who own these shops rise early to purchase the heads of sheep. They then spend the day cooking the skulls and selling the meat from the heads.

Okay, so these images are out of order but I just can't stomach fixing them AGAIN. So, I am swallowing my perfectionist tendencies for now.

Anyway, our travels to South Africa were long...let's just put it this way, they fed us four meals while on the plane--dinner, breakfast, lunch and dinner again. Alex slept the whole way, me, not so much. Yesterday was rough, but today is much better. Especially when I can eat breakfast on this cute little terrace each morning. This is the patio of our hotel.

This is the view from our balcony. We can also see Table Mountain from our room. I am sure I will get some good photos of Table Mountain tomorrow when I hike it!

To celebrate our vacation, surviving the flights and Alex's promotion, we ate cheese and crackers and sipped champagne on our balcony last night. Needless to say, I was sound asleep shortly thereafter. Champagne and jet lag are not a good pair...but it was fun nonetheless.

Alex and I visited the South African National Library to see a little exhibit there. While inside, I saw a large card catalog and could not pass it by without taking a photo. The library is stunning! Lots of natural light!

Table Mountain and the the National Gallery of South Africa. Lovely.

Alex decided it would be a good idea to take a photo while sitting in JFK waiting for our flight. Here it is. If only we knew what we were in for!

One would think that this sweet mask is the secret to sleeping on the plane. For my little sleeping beauty, apparently it did the trick. For me, not so much, though the toothbrush and toothpaste they gave us sure came in handy.

Embarking on our final plane. Only two more hours to go and of course, on this plane I fell asleep. Yay two hours of sleep!

Our room at the Fritz Hotel in Cape Town. It is a breezy, bright room. Very Euro, so Alex is right at home and so am I. I think I like this Euro thing.

Alex enjoying our balcony pre-champagne.