Golly gee Moses! In five days it's over - I'm outta here. I can't quite believe it. Five full months in Africa. So much to tell that I don't even have the words. Also, I guess I stopped writing some weeks ago as I kind of fell in a rut and then the attack on the US changed things as well. So for now, I think I'll rehash some of my recent travels over the past five weeks or so through South Africa, and now Swaziland and Mozambique. If I haven't found myself too long winded, I'll write a bit about different views and opinions in regards to what happened on September 11th. This already sounds so dull, but then again, I already know where I've been and what I've done and you don't!
Lessee - First I'll do a quick overview of the South Africans I've met. In Cape Town, you meet mostly white south Africans because that's the majority population and it's set up for tourists - quite a change from other parts of Africa that I visited. That being said, everyone is so openly friendly. They're so open and always willing to talk about racism. They still have so much work to do, but it's cool to see how open they are about their past in many ways, and at least are not so blind to what went on and why it has to change. I'm totally breezing over that but I did have many an interesting discussion. Also, some of my favorite phrases: "Howzit?", "Is it?" (which is used in place of our "Really?"), "Shame" (when we'd say "oh that's too bad."), "Pleasure" ("you're welcome" or after someone says "nice to meet you.") and one of my all time favorites, "just now" or "now now". They say something will be coming or leaving "just now" but really they mean anything from in the next five minutes to the next five hours. That, in my opinion, is not "just now"! And an Afrikaner word that everyone uses is "lekker" which means awesome or great. Everything is "lekker". One of the main negatives I found is that since there is a lot of crime, often committed by the black population, the white population is pretty paranoid. In some ways they have a right to be, but I realized that while in many ways I felt very at home, I would get tired of always being on guard and never feeling safe.
I stayed two and a half weeks in Cape Town. It was good and bad. I got to stay with a nice family for a good week, which was a wonderful and much needed break from hostels and being a tourist. I also headed out of town for a weekend to Knysna (which I'll mention later) and then back to Cape Town for more. It's a wonderful city, but I picked the wrong time of year. I kept meeting South Africans who would tell me this was the worst weather they'd had in 40 years. Well, what could I do about it? I did go on a fun wine tour, learned again how to drink wine properly and got a bit drunk in the process. Much recommended for anyone who travels to SA. Then I also rented a car one day with a German named Michael and two French people who were leaving that day. We decided to head south 50 km to Cape Point where the Indian ocean meets the Atlantic. As luck would have it, we got some of the WORST weather you could imagine on this wonderful day. It's the kind of weather that no one would want to drive in except we had rented the damn car and weren't about to waste our money. Also, mind you all of us were from countries where they drive on the left side of the car, right side of the highway. It's the opposite here. That made it even more fun. But Michael was a great driver, and occasionally I'd have to tell him to drive a bit more to the right since he always seemed to hug the left. Although it was pouring and windy, the scenery was spectacular. It's rugged coast and green hills and mountains. Looks a little like the California coast but not. I guess it was good that the weather sucked since we needed to get the two French people to the airport by 2 which sped up our sightseeing. Being that we didn't want to get out of the car, I wasn't too upset that we rushed through most of it. By the afternoon, the weather was better and we even went to the botanical gardens and a few other towns.
The day I finally tried to climb Cape Town's beloved Table mountain, it was my last day and while it had been pouring the night before, the weather was now pretty clear with some clouds but not over the mountain. This mountain is like the Golden Gate in summer time, often under a beautiful but thick layer of fog. Since it was so nice out, I decided to actually do the hour climb to the top. STUPID. I arrived, one hour later to a dense fog that had quickly blown in and also referred to as the table cloth so I couldn't see anything. Oh well - next time I come, I'll go in the summer months of December through March. And I'll use the cable car instead. On the bright side of things, the hike was nice. My last weekend there, Sept. 31st-Oct. 2nd, I went out with some people I'd met in Namibia. One of them was an English girl, Emma, who had been on my tour up north, and the other one, Vijay, is an American from NY who is studying in Cape Town. Anyway, we had a great time celebrating Emma's birthday and then I stayed a couple more days and partied with Vijay. Great to see the night life through a local perspective. And I also got to stay at his place which is always a bonus.
Finally, I was off to the Garden route, a part of the South African coast line that is quite beautiful and has lots of outdoorsy and adrenaline type activities for everyone. I went to Hermanus first, on a spontaneous decision to see the Southern Right Whales that come and breed and mate there during exactly these months. It was so cool to sit on the cliffs and see the whales as close as 15 meters away. I saw some breaching, lobtailing, and other specific words that describe their movements. I have some photos but they're a bit far away. Great place to go if you're a fan of whales. Then I was off to Outshoorn for a couple days, where there are plenty of ostrich farms, caves, mountains and much else. I must admit, I was all pumped to go there, but upon arrival I felt a bit let down. Everything was so touristy, and I realized I didn't have that much interest in going to an ostrich farm since you can see so many from the road....and, a few years back I saw an ostrich couple mate in Spain. Been there, done that :-) However, I went to the Canga Caves, which are these cool caves that they do tours in. I went alone but met three really cool South Africans from Durban. We had a blast trying to fit through tight crevices, and sliding on slippery surfaces (the adventure tour is definitely not for claustrophobic people). After that, I was quickly off to catch my next bus to the Wild Side backpackers, close to Knysna where I'd been before.
This hostel was awesome. Set on the beach, and part of a huge nature reserve, it's a really nice, relaxed, beachy atmosphere. You can look out from the big windows and sometimes catch sight of more whales and even dolphins. Didn't see the dolphins this time, but I did catch a few spouts from the whales. I met a nice Australian couple, Kieran and Andrew, and spent a lot of time hanging out with them and going on a hike in the nature reserve. Very good relaxation. Then we headed to Nature's valley to Utopia backpackers. This place was one of my favorites. They have hikes nearby through cool forests, as well as a big beach , and you can go canoeing in the lagoon that leads to the ocean. I went on a short canoe trip by myself in one of the five canoes, all of which were broken, so I had to switch half way through so I wouldn't sink in the one I was using. Made it so much more exciting.
I then headed 17 km farther north to Storms River for a night. Wasn't worth it. But the next day I went on a cool tour of the area which included an amazing lunch at a cheese farm. Yum. They served us champagne at the end as we looked out over the Storms River and into the Indian Ocean. However, while we had been at the fernery, the last activity, someone had mentioned something about hijacking of airplanes in the US. I wasn't too worried since there have been hijackings before and I didn't get the whole story. Upon arriving back at the hostel, the TV was turned to CNN and immediately they showed the two towers collapsing. I was in total shock. It was really like a movie, but yet I had to keep telling myself it was real. And then, five minutes later, my bus was there and I had to pry myself away and go for another two hours. I bumped into another couple, Canadian and Kiwi that I'd met up in Outshoorn. We were both in shock. They had just jumped from the highest bungy in the world, 216 meters which is over 600 ft and then called home to Jenn's (the Canadian) dad to tell him their news, and he told them what had just happened. It helped that they had NPR on so that's what I listened to for a good portion of the evening. I stayed in Jeffrey's Bay, a surf mecca for SA, but did little other than watch CNN and shop at the Billabong factory stores. It was a strange time and in some ways it's almost blurry now. I so wanted to go home at that moment since I was already homesick, and then to have this major event happen and be so far away. But I had to continue on. I finally did meet some Americans a few days later, but after the initial shock, I only had one other American to talk to and he really didn't want to get into it. I felt safer in South Africa than at home in many ways. Crazy.
I will go back to that. I went on after a couple days to Port Elizabeth where you have to stop with the Baz Bus and went out that night. It was strange because it was only two days after the attack, and while dancing was a great release, part of me wasn't ready to be having fun like that yet. I realized that while my country was in major mourning, I could turn my back when I wanted to. In many ways a great thing, but also made it so I felt even further from what happened. So, after a fun night out, I got up early and headed to Coffee shack. On the bus, I met Liza, an Italian who had been working in another town along the coast. She was trying to get me to stay at her place but I thought I should just move on ahead since this part of the coast, the Wild Coast, was more difficult to drive. Coffee Bay, where I was headed, is part of the Transkei where Nelson Mandela grew up and now lives. It was like going back to the Africa that I had traveled up north. Cows, goats, chickens cross the road when they want, few white people, lots of rounded huts with thatched roofs and poorer conditions in everything. In many ways, I felt like I was coming home. While it was great to be in Cape Town where I actually wanted to dress nicely and just shop shop shop, it was also good to go back to the simpler ways of most of the African continent.
I ended up in Coffee Bay for two in a half days. I hung out with an American named Kate who is studying in Durban and wanted a getaway from the 24/7 of CNN. She came to the right place and so did I. Free oysters on the bar every night, and cheap seafood that was amazing for dinner. Right near the beach. Fun activities during the day; I went canoeing but this time it was much more of a challenge since we were fighting the wind. Another day I went hiking to a place called "Hole in the Wall". Both days were great, and on the second day hike, we saw dolphins below as we reached the top of a hill after climbing the sides as precarious angles. Quite a wonderful sight. I saw dolphins that night as well. I also met a great couple, Bas (a Dutchman) and Sarah (an English woman). I had some great talks with them about Bush, my country, theirs, traveling, etc.
I left a few days later and headed straight for Durban. I met up with Amy, the girl that I had met in Zimbabwe. It was great to see a familiar face. I got to follow her on her job in the morning when she drops off the girls (she works at a shelter for runaway teens) to their schools. It was a good example of south Africa. All of them with nice uniforms and the outsides of the schools were great, but inside there are about 4 teachers for 700 students and there's not enough chalk or books or paper. I would drop out. And the townships, where most of the blacks and coloreds live, are right next to these beautiful, rich walled homes. Such a disparity. I liked Durban and I didn't. The city center was more black and Indian (supposedly they have the largest Indian population outside of India) and I felt very much at home. All the white south Africans will constantly tell you to be careful and don't go down there, but really, it was cool. You just need to be aware, and if possible, not carry any bags or anything of value with you. I went to an Indian market with all these spices, and later to a fish and chicken market where I was able to call my parents. There I was, finally, able to find a phone where they can call back to, and they're hacking chickens right next to me with their electric saw. Must have looked quite funny. But, everyone was so nice and once I mentioned I was from the States, there were always condolences and much sympathy. I was frustrated that a couple of the people I had met and hoped to see in Durban hadn't gotten back to me by email, so I couldn't see them. And then of course they emailed me as I was leaving. Such is life.
In Durban, I met Liza again (the Italian), and she was on her way up to Mozambique. I had wanted to go there, and last minute I decided to go with her for at least a week. It was a great decision. She's so happy and carefree and it was nice to finally get off my track and plan for where I was to go and just be spontaneous. We got to Swaziland (where I was to be in a week, and now am so I could meet up with my friend Chad that I met in Uganda.) The next day, we went to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. I think it's great that I ended my trip like this, since Mozambique is one of the poorest nations in the world and had a similar feel to Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. I also wanted the beach; coconuts everywhere, papaya, friendly people who all spoke Portuguese. Upon arriving in Maputo, we met a nice young Israeli couple, Galia and Yotam, in our bus there. We met a Spanish girl at the hostel, Teresa, who was heading to the fish market with a big group of French and made sure we came along too. What an experience! We picked out fresh clams, crab, calamari, fish, prawns and probably other shellfish as well, and then right there are restaurants in an open terrace that cook your food for cheap. So, for 2.5 kilos of all those things, beer and salad we paid $6 each. It was sooooo delicious and so different from anything I'd done before. As African capital cities go, Maputo is pretty darn cool.
Upon returning to the hostel I bumped into Bas and Sarah who I'd met in Coffee Bay. I was so happy to see them since I had such a great time chatting with them in SA. They headed up with Liza, Galia, Yotam and myself and we all arrived by 3 to our final destination. It was quite a trip but well worth it. Beach, palms, warm weather and water and relaxation. I went diving on Tuesday, and while the boat ride made me oh so seasick, the dives themselves were quite cool. My first dive was a deep dive, my first and we went down to 28 meters. Far but not as deep-feeling as one would think. That's where there are supposed to be lots of Manta rays and most everyone but myself saw one. Oh well - the dive was still great. I went on another one that afternoon. It wasn't as good as the current was quite strong and it was sooooo cold. This was the Indian ocean, but I think we were feeling a current from the Antarctic. Either way, I now have 9 dives under my belt and feel more comfortable with it. Such a great feeling to be in a live aquarium. The next morning I rose to see the sunrise and saw tons of dolphins frolicking about. We did see a whale shark from the boat on the way back from our first dive. The last night I had a great fish braii (barbecue in Afrikaans) with Liza, a German/Norwegian couple and two other Germans. We bought the fish fresh from two fisherman on the beach and it was sooo good, but huge, and took forever to cook. A great last supper.
So, I'm rambling. This time in Mozambique was a good chance to sit and talk to people from all over, and kind of digest my whole trip and prepare myself for home. One of the nights I was playing cards, I realized the beauty of travel as I sat there with two Israelis, a Dutchman, an English woman, an Italian, and myself, an American. We got along well and yet our backgrounds are quite different. I'll miss that when I get home. For most of my five months, I've met so few Americans, and when I have the group number hasn't exceeded five people. I think that will be the biggest bit of culture shock when I come home. I've also gotten a lot of s**t for where I come from, some deserved and some not. But while it's definitely opened my eyes, it's made it so coming home to a more patriotic or flag-waving country is a bit strange. From afar, I see that Americans at times can appear so patriotic, Christian, rich, clueless as to outside current events, blind and untraveled to boot. It's a big country and there are people of all types, some whom fit those stereotypes and many who don't. However, being abroad at this time, I've gotten to see even more how others, mostly through images they get from movies and the media, might view my country as I just described, not as how I see it from inside. In regards to the attack, most everyone I've met is so sorry and upset at what happened, but worried as to how our country is to proceed. At least they're taking their time for the moment. If anyone ever wants me to go on about some of the conversations I had with people from varying countries in regards to the attack, I'm happy to write a separate email. But for now, enough of my rambling.
It's been quite a ride. I'm now in Swaziland and taking it easy with Chad before I head to Europe for a few weeks to see new friends and then finally home!!! I actually just bumped into the Canadian/Kiwi couple that I met in Jeffries Bay, and they're leaving October 4th too. What a small world. I have so many photos that I figure, I'll make an album of the 50 best pictures so as not to overwhelm someone who wants to see a few. If I get my act together, I also hope to get some of the pics on the web for all of you who are not in the SF Bay Area to see. Thanks for listening to these long but hopefully interesting tales of my travels. I often wish I'd had a computer on a bus since that's when I had my best emails compiled in my head. Africa is an amazing, crazy, chaotic and in so many ways, simple place. Definitely worth visiting.
Love ya all,