Africa. Dark. Mysterious. Primitive. Sign me up! This travel experience began the same way most of my travels have begun the past couple of years- not with a destination in mind, but with a house sitting opportunity. Of course I knew I wanted to go somewhere for my Christmas break. But where…well, that decision was left to Trusted House Sitters (THS)! I only had two criteria in mind: 1) Somewhere warm (always a requirement!) 2) No long haul flights! I had gone all the way around the world over the summer, and a nice 6-8 hour flight to Central or South America, or one of those nice Caribbean Islands was sounding mighty nice…
Best laid plans and blah, blah, blah. I had about given up on finding a decent house sit in the middle of October (patience is not one of my virtues), and was getting quite frustrated. And then an unbelievably gorgeous sit popped up on THS. The profile picture was an INSANE ocean view out of a wall of windows in a beautiful living room. The country caption said “South Africa”. Hmmmmmm. And no pets to tend to! There were already several applicants, and this sit was a sweeeeeeeet gig, so I didn’t put much faith in my chances when I sent my introduction letter. Within an hour or so, the homeowner contacted me back. A couple of emails and a video meetup later, and the sit was mine!! Not just the sit, but the longest of long haul flights I could have possibly come up with- 12 hours to Munich, 5 hour layover, 12 hours to Cape Town. But it’s AFRICA!! So on December 14, I headed out for a new adventure on a new continent…
Day 1, 2, 3
Day 5 (Boulder’s Beach Penguins)
Day 7 (Kirstenbosch Gardens)
Days 8 & 9 (Seal Island)
Day 10 (Porcupine)
Day 11 (Christmas- South African Style)
Day 12 (Aquarium and Ostrich Farm)
Day 13 & 14 (Cricket from Hell)
Day 15 (More Penguins)
Day 16, 17, 18 (World of Birds, Bay Harbor Market, Meeting an Amazing Man)
Day 19 (Cape Town Street Parade)
Day 20 (Brian’s Here!!!)
Day 21 (Cape Point- AMAZING!)
Day 22 (Cheetahs!!)
Day 23 (!Khwa Ttu Indigenous Center and West Coast National Park)
Day 24 (Langa Township)
Day 25 (Cape Alguhas and Panthera Africa)
Day 26 (Safari!!)
Day 27 (Xoma Aob)
Day 28 (Robben Island & Departure)
Day 1, 2, 3
These are the travel days and first full day in South Africa. And man, I don’t think I’ll ever do two 12 hour back to back flights again! First leg, LAX to Munich. I had the window seat, and as I was coming down the aisle I saw a HUGE guy standing right about where my row was. Oh please don’t let him be in my row….of course, he was in my row. Now I’m going to start this by saying I don’t give a flying (pun) flip about how people look. Knock yourself out. You do you. But when you starts impacting me, we’re going to have a problem. This guy not only filled up his entire seat, but easily 1/4 of mine. I’m not going to lie, I was pissed. I paid about $500 for this one leg. About $500 for my teeny tiny piece of airplane space that even someone like me of small to medium stature has a hard time being comfortable in. And this jack weasel was taking up about $125 of that space. And not only was he taking up my space, he smelled like rotten cottage cheese. I was texting Brian before take off, he said I should say something. But what am I going to say that doesn’t make me sound like a total bitch? The guy isn’t going to magically shrink if I tell him to stay on his side of the armrest. The flight was full, so what was the attendant going to do? So I just leaned as far way as possible against the wall. I say this to say this: If you are so big that you can’t fit into one seat, then I’m sorry but you need to buy 2. Or one seat in business or first class where there’s more room. You do NOT have the right to take up my space because of YOUR issues. #rantoff
I slept for about 7 of the 12 hours. At one point, the seat hog did something and whacked me hard squarely in the middle of the back. That means he was over half way into my space. He mumbled sorry and I didn’t even acknowledge him. Got to Munich, and settled in for a long 5 hour layover. Grabbed some little German biscuits covered with chocolate and a water ($8 US, thank you very much) and chatted a bit with Brian. Got on the next flight with a plan to try to sleep for at least 5 hours. Well, that didn’t happen. I barely got one hour. At least this row mate fit in his seat- but he did snore a little! The sun came up and we were over ocean. About 30 minutes before we landed, I saw my first piece of Africa. The coastline was dotted with little rounded coves with white sand beaches. All I could think was, “I bet we’re flying over a ton of great white sharks!”.
The last piece of air before touchdown sent us over what I guess you would call a shanty town. Dwellings straight off of the brochure a of third world (yes, I know “developing” is politically correct, but I’m making a point here) country. Four walls not too far apart with a ribbed tin roof, crammed together way too close, with garbage and broken glass everywhere. It was kind of shocking. In my travels I’ve seen poverty, but this was- I don’t know- this was very palpable. But before I could really process it, the wheels touched down. I was in Africa!
The wonderful homeowner had set up a private shuttle for me, so when I got off the plane a lady was standing there with a sign that said, “Mary Middlebrook”. Wow. Super fancy! I insisted on pushing my luggage cart (yes, I had to have a cart for this trip- more about that later). I can’t stand for people to wait on me when I’m perfectly able. We chit chatted as we walked. We both loaded the luggage into the shuttle and I returned the cart. She asked if it was ok to turn on the radio and I told her of course! I want her to do whatever it is she would normally do! She said a lot of passengers get kind of snappy and say, “No radio!”. Oy. I told her I’m the easiest passenger she’d ever have. She said she could already tell. I LIVE for those kinds of compliments!!! Along the hour drive, she pointed out different things, we talked a little about politics both here and in the US, I told her the type of propaganda we get fed about Africa and we both laughed at some of the stereotypes. She talked about restaurants locals would go to and pointed them out. It was really a pleasant trip! The drive along the coast was GORGEOUS- pics of that next time I go that way. Through little seaside towns of Muizenberg, Fish Hoek, and then to Simon’s Town- my home for the next month. I’ve seen a lot of interesting crossing signs warning drivers of exotic (to me) animals that one should be on the lookout for….but I had never seen a penguin crossing sign!! I can’t wait to get down there and see them! We turned off the main road and went up. And up. And UP a huge, steep hill. My dreams of walking to the penguins every day slowly disintegrated as I imagined huffing and puffing back up a half mile or more of this!! #travelinsurance And then we pulled up to a house. A stunning house at the top of the hill…
I unloaded my bags, thanked the driver, and headed to the front door. I had arrived- almost 36 hours after leaving my home in Los Angeles. The house keeper, Maria, let me in. She’s going home for Christmas which is why the owners need a house sitter. We entered through the garage and loaded my bags into the funicular. Yes, a funicular. A little tram-like elevator sort of thing that runs from the garage to the second floor. Swanky. Maria showed me my room. More swanky! It’s not just a room, it’s a suite! I have a king sized bed that faces a wall of windows that open to a little private balcony with a to-die-for ocean view!! There’s a desk, a couch, a large coffee table, a massage chair, and a huge bathroom. I have died and gone to spoiled traveler heaven! Then Maria takes me upstairs. Swank to the power of luxury!! A fantastic open living room and dining room with a wall of windows overlooking the spectacular ocean. A large balcony with a couch and bbq (that we will definitely use when Brian gets here!). Even a little swimming pool! The gorgeous large kitchen also over looks the ocean, but out the back windows you look up the mountain. This house would do my ex-in laws proud (shout out to you, Karen M!!) As Maria was walking me through I saw a hummingbird with an INSANE metallic green head at the feeder! I so wanted to stop and get a picture, but I figured I’d have another chance. Not only were these homeowners so kind to trust me with their home and arrange my shuttle, but they even stocked the refrigerator for me! How I end up with the most awesome house sitting gigs all over the world, I’ll never know, but I’m sure glad for it!
I came back to my room to unpack. I was toast. I decided I had to sleep for 2 hours. Set the alarm. Hit snooze 2 hours later and woke up after a 4 hour nap! I felt so hungover. The wind outside was INSANE. So windy you could hear it howling around the corners. Just looking at the waves on the ocean was enough to make me sea sick! It was so crazy that my interior bedroom door would rattle ever so often! I just kind of laid in bed and relaxed, stalking my friend Allison’s travel blog for Cape Town adventures, and forcing myself to stay up until 9pm (11am Los Angeles time). Went to sleep and woke up at 1am (3pm Los Angeles time), and could not go back to sleep to save my life. I tossed and turned and read facebook on my phone for hours. Chatted a bit with Brian. Listened to the incessant wind. Finally went back to sleep at about 6am. Maria knocked on my door at 6:30, and thankfully after a quick chat I was able to fall back asleep until 11:30. Woke up, got some food and a Diet Dr. Pepper, took some pictures, and finally started feeling human enough to write this.
Let’s back up a second to Diet Dr. Pepper. Those of you who know me know that finding Dr. Pepper in my travels is like my own personal scavenger hunt fueled by the challenge and a wee bit of desperation. I research to see if it’s even available, and then try to find it. Sometimes I succeed (Belize, France, England, Malaysia, Sweden), sometimes not (Costa Rica, Panama, Cuba(duh), Germany, Italy). All my research led to zero chance of finding any in South Africa. The homeowner backed up these findings. True story: My main question for homeowners after I get a sit is “Can I get Dr. Pepper there?”. I knew I could remedy the problem this time though. Because for once, I wasn’t flying a budget airline that charged you for anything you brought that wouldn’t fit in your right hip pocket. No, I was flying on Lufthansa, baby!! Two checked bags for FREE!!! So I checked my normal carry on and packed another bag with one case of 12 and 6 loose cans wrapped in a trash bag. This empty bag will allow me to actually bring home more than one tiny souvenir!! May I present to you my Brian Advent Calendar. One a day until Brian gets here with a fresh supply!!! 🙂
This entry shall be titled “COME HELL OR HIGH WINDS”.
First, let’s begin with hell. This is the worse case of jet lag I’ve ever had. I didn’t even know it could be this bad. I went to bed about 10pm last night. I didn’t go to sleep until AFTER 4 FREAKING AM!!!! And then guess when I woke up. 6:30am. Two hours of sleep. TWO. Misery, thy name is jet lag. I was starting to feel like a human again yesterday. Today, not so much.
And on to the wind…People, I thought the Santa Ana winds in Los Angeles the past couple of weeks were bad. Those were a slight breeze compared to what I have learned are the South-Easter winds. And I’m here to tell you they are no joke. I have been here for 3 days. The wind has not stopped blowing fiercely for a single second- and I’m not exaggerating. It’s a constant noise- both outside as it whips bushes into a frenzy and screams around the corners of the house, and inside where it rattles everything when a really big gust comes along. According to the online weather service, it’s pretty constant at about 30 miles per hour, with gusts around 50 (I’d guess higher). It’s like living in a dry, never ending tropical storm! It is a little better this morning- still quite windy but at least the ocean doesn’t look like a sea of white caps.
One thing I need to clarify is my current transportation issue. In Costa Rica, I had Jennifer’s Ms. Kia (car) to get around in. In Paris, I had the subway. In Kuala Lumpur, I could walk almost everywhere I wanted to go. In Simon’s Town there is no subway, no bus, I have been told by 2 different locals that the trains to Cape Town are unreliable and potentially dangerous. Rent a car? Sure- but that’s going to require me driving on the left side and I’m not sure I have the constitution for that yet. Uber? This is a possibility that I will be utilizing in the near future if I calculate the budget and the risk to the South African population and determine that renting a car is out of the question. Walk? Sure- but that’s going to require me returning home via a hill that the shuttle van that brought me here had a hard time traversing, PLUS dealing with the death winds. Oh, what the hell- let’s hoof it! There are penguins to be seen!!
I have three fears about leaving the confines of my posh digs.
1. Being blown all the way to Nambia (Trump’s African country where people who get blown away by the South-Easters end up- and NO ONE wants to end up in one of Trump’s countries. Oh…wait….)
2. BABOONS!! Good lord why do I always choose to travel to areas with man eating monkeys! And with these winds, they’ll probably be like those ones in the Wizard of Oz. The homeowner told me last night over the phone that I shouldn’t see any if I walk to the beach. I’m not convinced. In fact, I heard a neighbor’s perimeter alarm going off last night and I was convinced for a good half hour that a band of marauding baboons were going to be crashing through the house at any moment. I locked my interior bedroom door- that’s how real that possibility was to me! #jetlag
3. Having a heart attack walking back up that hill. Of the 3 fears, this one is probably the most realistic. But on the bright side, if I survive it they might give me some nice tranquilizers at the hospital and I could finally get some sleep.
WARNING. TRIGGER ALERT. SAFE SPACE NOTIFICATION. POTENTIAL UNINTENDED OFFENSIVENESS STRAIGHT AHEAD:
Before I could get out the door, the window cleaning crew dropped by unexpectedly. John, an older white guy with a delightful accent (is it South African? UK and environs? Australian? Don’t ask me- all I know is that it’s English). While we were talking, the younger black guy with him introduced himself as well. Look, I have no idea what the PC terms are here. At home, I’d call a black person African American. Here, I have heard them called blacks. I don’t know if that’s a welcomed term or not. When I asked my driver what cultures were here, she said black, colored, white, and Indian. Obviously, they’re African, but does that term really make sense since there are people here who are not black that are African as well? Color me confused. Anyway, back to the story. The younger black guy walked up, and was followed by another. John introduced them and said they were from Zimbabwe. That about 3,000,000 of them were in South Africa due to the government being so bad, but things were getting better. The two men had the darkest skin I think I’ve ever seen (and I was raised in the south). Skin so pitch black that it absorbed all light and even my gaze. A midnight arm reached out to me, then another. Their hands were large and rough and dry. In that handshake I felt a lot of things. Fear. That dogged fear instilled in me from my childhood in the south, that I have tried so hard to overcome completely. I guess those brainwashed initial instincts will always be there, no matter how much my conscious, enlightened self tries to stamp it out. But after that initial stupid instinct that quickly disappeared, there was amazement. These men were African. They had fled their home country. What stories did they have? In that moment, I was honored to be meeting them and honored that they were so friendly and kind to me and seemed to be genuinely happy to meet me. And finally, a sense of apology. For many things. For that initial fear, for everything people who look like me and speak like me had done to them over the centuries, for standing here in this insanely gorgeous house while they cleaned the windows. Just writing about it now makes me tear up. There was a lot of emotion that flowed through those 3 second handshakes…
I went into the kitchen to make my lunch, and there was that metallic green headed “hummingbird” again! I had told the homeowner about it on the phone last night, and she said they weren’t hummingbirds, but sun birds. Super cool! I ran back downstairs and grabbed my camera. I caught the pair of sunbirds (Orange Breasted) and another gorgeous pair of birds with SUPER long tails at the feeder (later research proved them to be sugar birds- the only species on the Cape)! As I watched them, I said out loud “These birds live in AF-RICK-UH!”. I have to keep reminding myself I’m really here.
The window crew left in the early afternoon. Maria had left for her trip back home earlier in the morning. For the first time, I was all alone. All alone in Africa. Hell and high winds (which had really picked back up) won out in the end. My eyelids were heavy and I knew I wasn’t going to make a trek to the beach and back on my measly 2 hours of sleep. I took a 2 hour nap. That gives me 4 hours of sleep in the last 24. I still feel hungover, so hopefully I’ll actually sleep tonight and be at 100% tomorrow. Days are moving too fast here for me to be so out of commission.
This blog shall be titled “S.O.L. (Shit Officially Lost)”.
Finally!! A day of adventure to share with you! First adventure of the day- sleeping from 10pm to 8am straight!! Woo-hoo!! Jetlag is officially my bitch instead of the other way around! I woke up feeling a little hungover and groggy, but once I started moving around and ate breakfast, I was back to my old self again and ready to head down to see some penguins! It wasn’t as windy- meaning it was a really strong breeze instead of gale force winds. Perfect!
First up, though, the homeowner’s brother-in-law was going to stop by to work on the rainwater catchment system. It’s a pretty cool set up, and super important since South Africa is in a SEVERE (and I mean SEVERE) drought. When water does come, every drop needs to be saved. He was a super nice guy and he showed me the system and we talked about traveling, South Africa, and more. After he left, I grabbed my trusty jungle hat (never leave the country without it!), my super awesome green day pack filled with a water bottle, jacket, and camera, and headed down the hill! And down, and down, and down…I tried not to think about up…
Got to the main road and tried to remember the homeowner’s directions to the place where I didn’t have to pay to see the penguins. Boulder Beach is a pay park, and I’ll probably wander down there eventually, but I’m all about free, so free penguin watching sounded good. I wasn’t really sure where I was going. I remembered her saying “golf course”, so when I saw it, I crossed it. There were these two really big birds (almost vulture sized) grazing in the dry grass. Upon arriving back to the house (spoiler alert: I didn’t die on the hill), I researched and think I have correctly identified them as Ibis, and maybe more specifically the Hadada Ibis.
On the other side of the golf course was the beach I can see from the house. White sand, blue green water, huge rounded boulders, and jaw droppingly gorgeous! I looked around in the rocks for signs of life, but only saw a couple of limpets and some assorted gastropods (snails). No stars or anemones or anything. 🙁
The beach was beautiful, but I’m not much of a beach girl. I am, however, very much a penguin girl! So I headed off down the beach in search of them. I don’t know how, but I actually found the little free boardwalk the homeowner had told me about! Opened the gate and walked down the sandy trail.
Not too many steps in, and I said out loud before I even thought- “Holy freaking crapballs- those are PENGUINS!!!!!!!!!” And there they were!!! And that’s when I went S.O.L (shit officially lost). They were AMAZING!!! I was talking excitedly to myself. I was talking lovingly to them. I was snapping pics. I just wanted to jump the fence and go snuggle with all of them! It was insanity of the best kind! I couldn’t believe these were penguins in front of me…penguins that live in AF-RICK-UH!!!!!!!
When I quit snapping pics, I turned around and looked up the trail where I had just come from. And damned if there wasn’t a penguin right on the trail by my leg! He was on the side of the trail opposite the beach- I had been staring at the penguins on the beach and didn’t even see him! If he would have been a cobra, he would have bit me (yeah, there are cobras here. no lie). I knelt down by him, about 3 feet away, and took some pics. I could have reached out and touched him, but of course I wouldn’t ever do that. Besides, I didn’t add the “Penguin Bite Rider” to my travel insurance. He kind of sneezed at me. I think that was a “get outta my personal space, lady” warning snot. I looked up and there were more penguins opposite the beach side. They were everywhere! On rocks, in grass, on the trail, by the houses, and one I saw swimming in the water.
Oh, but penguins weren’t the only critters out and about!! These hilarious looking beaver/guinea pig/rat things are rock hyraxes. And they aren’t kin to any of those things it looks like. In fact, their nearest living relatives are elephants and Sirenians (manatees and dugongs). Isn’t that insane?! All hail evolution, we bow before your wondrous glory. 🙂 There was a pair of them on the rocks, so cute. And then when I went down the trail a little further, there was one laying right in the middle of it. Now, other than being a marine biologist and pulling the “hey, I teach kids about your Sirenian cousins” card, I wasn’t sure what to do about this. Were they aggressive? Should I just turn around and leave him be? Because again, I didn’t check the box for Rock Hyrax Mauling on my insurance….Hmmm. I took a tentative step toward him to see what he would do. Nothing. I was about 5 feet away. I took another step- slowly. Nothing. One more step, and he scooted off into the bushes. Attack averted!
There was another bird on the beach that was simply stunning. Research indicates that it’s a Black African Oyster Catcher. So beautiful.
It was time to head back. I walked through the parking lot and saw this sign:
And then I saw this. Oh my god. If I ever ran over one of those darlings, I just go drown myself. I can’t even bear to think about it.
Walked back along the golf course toward the house. I managed to make it up the hill- somehow. I was really huffing and puffing the last block or so. All in all, 2.8 miles, about 100 penguins, a few rock hyraxes, a couple of ibis and black oystercatchers, and ZERO baboons!!!!!! I can’t imagine a more wonderful first outing.
DAY 6 is really easy to journal. I spent the day in Malaysia! In other words, I spent all day in the house working on lesson plans for my upcoming classes on my Malaysia adventures!
After a super long work day, I was definitely ready for some outdoor adventures! So Day 7 took me to Kirschbosch gardens. *insert scratching needle on a record sound*
So that was what I had written early this morning, intending to combine boring day 6 with fun day 7. Only thing on the agenda was an electrician coming at 4. And at about 5:30, things went south…. I’m going to preface this with this: I am so freaking amiable when I’m not in the US that I don’t even recognize myself most of the time. I’m patient and friendly. I have only encountered ONE person in the past 4 years of travel that has been rude to me, and it was a subway ticket lady in the Paris Metro. And honestly, if I had her job and one more lame ass American tourist came to my window clueless about everything and yapping about in English, I’d probably snap as well. So back to 5:30. The electrician comes in and informs me that there’s a problem outside. I’m thinking, “I don’t know what problem you might have that you think I could solve.”, but ok, I go out. And there is the glass door on the patio, shattered into a sickening spider web of glass. He immediately starts in with, “The wind blew this heavy metal stand that was propping the door open, and the door slammed shut and broke. It’s not my fault!!” I informed him that before his arrival, that door had been shut tight by Maria who showed me how to close it and I hadn’t touched that door since then, and he’d been going in and out of it for the past hour and a half, so it could only be his fault. And this is when he committed the sin of all sins. Looked me right in the face and lied through his teeth. “That door was open when we got here! (side note: he wasn’t the first guy on the scene- his worker was) In fact, I know this door and it doesn’t even shut!” I raised two teenage boys. Do not think you can get a lie past me. And then this is where I think everything went wrong. He “shut” the door then pushed it open with a touch to prove to me that it wouldn’t shut. It is a tricky door, and I informed him that he wasn’t doing it right, and right in front of his workers I shut the door properly, pushed it, it stayed firmly closed, and I said “See? It does shut. This is how it was before you arrived. I’m going to go call the homeowner.”
I swear, these absolutely wonderfully kind and overly generous people leave me with their home and this happens on my watch. And this was the SECOND time this door had broken on a housesitters watch- Maria had told me about the last time when she was emphasizing how important it was to shut the door. I was sick. I called and explained to the homeowner what had happened. She told me to get masking tape and tell him not to leave until he tapes up the glass to keep it from falling out of the door. I go get the tape, relay the message, and he starts insisting again that it wasn’t his fault. And then he said the kicker- “I had no idea when I propped it open that the wind would blow the stand away.” Had this been my house and my country, the venom that would have come out of me after this guy completely changed his story would have made a boomslang blush (yes, there are boomslangs here. no lie). But not my house, not my country, not a war I wanted to get involved in. I just wanted him gone. I repeated what the homeowner had said about taping it up and went back in. About 20 minutes later, I’m on the phone with the homeowner, and he calls me. I go back up and he tells me they’re done and leaving. Then he informs me that I really offended him earlier. Ok, maybe it’s a cultural thing where if someone lies to you you just smile and nod without questioning it. Maybe it’s a sexist cultural thing where you lie to a woman, she just smiles and nods without questioning it. But sorry, bub, I’m an independent woman from UH-MER-I-CUH, and I speak my mind. I don’t do it rudely (most of the time), but I’m not going to pretend your lie is the truth. I simply told him that I was just telling him what I knew to be true. He said he was telling me what he knew to be true (which version??). I replied, “Yes, and I didn’t get offended by it.” And off he went. No joke, my blood was boiling though. I think the offense was that I proved to him that the door did shut and embarrassed him in front of his workers. Tough gumballs. Be an honest person, own up to what you did wrong, and no one would have been offended.
PHEW! Had to get that outta my system! It’s all good now. The house is on lockdown (security here is Ft. Knox level!), I made myself a yummy dinner, and I’m in bed blogging and about to get back to work. I guess you already got a spoiler alert for Day 7 at the beginning of this…
I didn’t sleep again last night. Well, I did from 11-1 and then from about 4-6:30. Ugh. The winds were HOWLING all night. Got up, 3/4 dead but determined to go to the gardens, turned on the shower and….no water pressure. I had to call the poor homeowner again with a problem. She’s going to change her number before I leave! She called Peter, the guy who works on the water system, to come over and see what was going on. He was over here the other day and is super nice. He also works closely with, and sent over, the electrician from yesterday. Eep! He got here at about 8:30, apologized for the situation, and went to work. No mention of the electrician. Took about 30 minutes before he figured it out and wa-la, we had water pressure again! We had a nice chat. He said he knew I was going out, and asked where. I said Kirstenbosch Gardens- that I was going to Uber. He offered to take me to Fish Hoek since he was going that way. And off we went! He had to make 2 maintenance stops first, and I said I didn’t mind. I was enjoying the conversation and getting out of the house in a vehicle for the first time in 5 days. Guess where the first stop was. The electrician’s house! Eep! When Peter got out, the electrician walked to the truck. Peter pointed to me and said “You stay there” and he said to the electrician “She’s going to stay in there and you stay out here.” It was all in good fun and he was smiling. I didn’t even look at the electrician, so I don’t know if he got the joke or was still “offended”. Made one more stop, then he dropped me off in Fish Hoek. I told him that I hoped I wouldn’t have to call him again before Christmas! Good news is that the wind had completely stopped. That’s the first time since I’ve been here…Hal-glory!
It was super easy to order an Uber in Fish Hoek, and it was there within just a few minutes. Off we went to Kirstenbosch Gardens. This is the largest garden in South Africa (over 1000 acres!) and considered to be one of the top gardens in the world, so I was really excited to see it! I’m a plant girl. I rescue dead and dying plants from people and from Lowe’s, and bring them back to life. I have a ridiculous amount of plants and am constantly planning my landscaping. So I was hoping for some inspiration! I got there a little before 11am, and the sign said there was a guided walk at 11. I decided to take that because it was free (my favorite kind of activity!). The guide said there are usually about 10 people. Perfect! It ended up being over 30. Ugh. Things I like: FREE! Things I don’t like: Hanging out with a bunch of tourists. But whatevz, I thought I’d stick it out. The guide was really passionate about the gardens, which was nice. I tried to stick close to her so I could hear what she was saying- especially because she said there would be a quiz at the end! #thatgirl And she was right- at the very end she pointed out a tree she had talked about toward the beginning of our hour and a half tour. She gave a few clues and asked if anyone knew what it was. Silence (for the first time). I said “It was that almond tree.” She said I should win a prize. I agree. Teachers make the best students! When the tour was over, I set out on my own for about 3 hours. I was glad for the knowledge from the tour, but with the big yapping group gone, the animals finally appeared! I could listen for a rustle of dry leaves or the flap of a wing or a bending of a twig, and follow that sound to its critter origin. I saw 3 birds in an hour and a half. I saw about 50 in the next 3 hours! Plus a squirrel that eluded photo capture. The scenery was like nothing I’ve ever seen. And it only cost a little over $5US to get in!!! I literally can not describe all of the sights, sounds, textures, colors, smells. It was unreal. So I’m just going to let the pictures speak for themselves. I took 190 pics, narrowed it down to 110, and had to seriously narrow it down for the blog. I’m going to do it in three sections: mountain scenery, garden scenery, close ups, and animals.
With the beautiful Table Mountain as a backdrop, and jaw dropping views all the way to the sea (that the camera had a hard time picking up through the haze), the surroundings were breath taking!
There were so many themed gardens, but they were all arranged in a way that made them look perfectly natural and not so organized and meticulously landscaped. I loved it!
The texture and color of the flowers didn’t always pick up in the long shots, so I got up close and personal with a lot of really intricate and beautiful flowers!
It’s a lot harder to take pics of animals than plants, since plants don’t usually run away! Here are some of my best shots of the day.
Caught my Uber back and had a really friendly driver this time. He’s from Zimbabwe and he played me music from there in their language. I actually enjoyed it a lot!! Dropped me off and I started the evening routine. Dinner, cut up food for porcupines (yes, PORCUPINES come here every night- I’ve yet to see one though!), feed porcupines. I had noticed some porcupine quills in a jar in the kitchen, but I wasn’t sure if those were store bought or what. Imagine my surprise when I found THREE quills in the feeding area! I almost fainted from sheer excitement, and would have if I wasn’t scared a cobra or puff adder (yes there are puff adders here. no lie) would kill me. It’s a little weedy back there on the other side of the gate, and it makes me a bit nervous! And now I had my very first souvenir from Africa, and my favorite kind- FREE!! 🙂 Anyway, I had an absolutely WONDERFUL day! I really needed an excursion, and this one was more than I could have hoped for!
DAYS 8 & 9
I slept great, and woke up refreshed for Day 8! That’s two awesome nights of sleep since I left! Woo-hoo (I guess…) What’s the common denominator between both nights? Nyquil. I absolutely HATE taking medicine of any kind. I have to be on death’s door to take even an aspirin. The idea of getting addicted to something (other than Dr. Pepper) scares me to death. And I know it’s kind of an irrational fear, but growing up with a non-functional prescription drug addict as a “parent” will do that to you… I took it last night at 9, went to sleep at 10, and didn’t move until the phone rang at 8am (Peter wanted to come and paint since there was no wind). That’s the thing about never taking even over the counter meds- they have uber impact on me because my body isn’t used to it! I have to sleep though, especially before days like today where I know I’m going to be working on lesson plans all day. If I have even a hint of brain fog, researching and focusing is impossible. That said, I’m well rested and spending the day in Malaysia again- working on the history of the country…which is quite interesting indeed!
Only one exciting thing happened today, and it was SUPER EXCITING!! I went up to the kitchen for water at about 8:30pm. Looked at the camera monitor that is pointing to the porcupine area like I do every night. Nothing. Sigh. Poured my water, walked back, and something on the screen caught my eye. Something was moving!! I looked, and IT WAS A PORCUPINE!!!!!! Oh my god, I almost fainted right there! I ran downstairs to get my camera (which was already packed for tomorrow’s adventure) and back up. Checked the monitor- still there! EEEEEEEEK!!! I slooooowly unlocked and slid open the patio door. I stopped and searched my science mind files under “porcupine quill shooting- true or myth”. I was 98% sure it was a myth, almost came back downstairs to google just in case because a face full of those quills was not something I was interested in experiencing. Convinced myself I was being an idiot and I was 100% sure that was a myth. All of that took about 2.3 seconds. I caaaaaaarefully tiptoed to the side gate (that opens to the weedy area where I’m convinced a cobra is waiting for me every day!). I quiiiiiiiiitely unlocked the gate and started to slide it open just a crack…just enough to get the lens through. And when I did, all I saw was porcupine butt scuttling down the hill. But oh my god, it was BIG! Way bigger than I thought they would be! Holy hell I wouldn’t want to tangle with one of those things! Seriously though, I don’t know why he ran. What in the world would want to eat that land dwelling sea urchin?! I waited for about 3 minutes, no sign of them. I was happy that the homeowner had told me that baboons went to bed around 6, so I didn’t have to worry about one of them. Then I started wondering if cobras were nocturnal, and figured I shouldn’t take any chances in the dark, so I shut the gate and came back in. FYI: Cape cobras are diurnal. 🙂 And it also is the most venomous of all the African cobras. Sometimes google is not your friend.
Day 9 is ADVENTURE DAY!! It was absolutely gorgeous out, so I decided to walk the 2.5 miles down to the Simon’s Town wharf. It was a perfect day for boating!
It was a great walk into town. I stopped along the way to visit a little outdoor market that was set up with arts and food. There are so many little shops and restaurants along the main street! I’m just not much of a “peruse through shops for miscellaneous stuff I don’t need” girl. Went to the wharf and found my boat! I was going out with Simon’s Town Boat Company.
It was a pretty small boat, and there was only one other group tagging along for the trip- a very lovely family of four from the UK. We boarded at 10:30am for our hour and a half trip to Seal Island and back! It’s not whale or great white shark season, but they said they had seen a Bride’s Whale yesterday- so I was keeping my fingers crossed. We headed out across the smooth water (thank god, although I had chewed up my Bonine pills before I left as a precaution!). There were little boats in the harbor fishing with hand lines. The guide said they were catching squid! Oh man, I so wanted to do that! I actually saw this guy bring one up, but wasn’t quick enough to capture it!
On the trip out, we didn’t see any whales or dolphins, but every once in a while we’d see a tell-tale fin sticking out of the water, or an entire curious seal face popping up to get a good look at us. Soon, we could see the island in the distance!
This 5 hectare island is home to about 70,000 Cape Fur Seals (Arctocephalus pusillus). I was here in time to see the pups! Females give birth in late November and early December, so if I was lucky I was hoping to be able to see babies that were one month old or less. As we approached, you could hear the barking! Actually, it sounded more like the bleating of sheep than normal sea lion barking. And seals were EVERYWHERE!!! On the island and in the water- with their fins sticking out catching some rays (it’s a mechanism they use to warm up!).
You could easily see the difference in the sexes- the males are VERY large (over 7 feet and about 600 lbs) and the females are much smaller and sleeker (about 6 feet and 250 lbs). And there were BAY-BAYS!!!! The babies stay on the island- they don’t have enough blubber yet to stay warm in the chilly water. This morning, a huge group of babies was hanging out by the water’s edge, waiting for their moms to come back from feeding.
The boat slowly circled the island, and when we got to the other side, we could get a lot closer to the island and the seals that were in the water! They were so funny- jumping, playing, and popping their heads up for a look like- “Hey boat people, did you see that cool trick?!”. You almost wanted to jump in with them! #ijustsaynotogreatwhitesharkterritory Speaking of great whites, this is premier feeding grounds in the winter (it’s summer here now, south of the equator). In March and April when the pups are heading out to the ocean for the first time, the sharks move in- about 50-60 of them are here on any given day, and about 18 predations are seen a day! WOW! This is the place where the great whites will jump out of the water during an attack!! That would be so amazing to witness, even if a little sad. But now, probably no sharks, or very few. The guide told us that the biggest danger are the seals themselves- males are SUPER protective of their females and pups, and if a human were to go on to the island, you’d be killed! Eek!
There weren’t just seals on Seal Island. There were birds, too. We even saw a couple of lonely penguins that looked half lost! On this side of the island, on the far end, we were downwind, and the smell of seal and bird poop- while not overwhelming- was definitely noticeable!
It was really hard to get good close up because of the motion of the boat. All too soon it was time to leave Seal Island and head back to Simon’s Town. It was a WONDERFUL outing! The weather has been so bad that this was only their 5th day this month (today is December 23) to make a trip. So if you’re going to go, plan accordingly with the wind situation. If they have to cancel due to weather, you get a full refund. Trip cost is 350 rand, which is $35ish US. Not bad at all for this lovely experience!
I got off the boat, called an Uber, and headed to Fish Hoek to grab a few groceries (for the first time since I’ve been here!). I shopped at Woolworth’s- I wonder if it’s related to the 5 and dime stores of my youth?? Anyway, nothing here was a nickel or a dime, but it wasn’t too bad! I spent about $80US, and have more than enough to last me until Brian gets here in 10 days. Ubered back to the house, took a short nap (I didn’t sleep all that great last night- only took 1 pill instead of two. Sigh), got up, and started work. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will be spent working, working, and doing some more work. Gotta stay on schedule! Next big outing is planned for Dec. 26!
It’s Christmas Eve in South Africa!! How did I celebrate? By working my butt off all day long on a lesson plan for my Malaysia class. However, like everyone around the world, when evening came, I put out snacks for a special visitor I was hoping to see. No, not cookies for Santa (bah humbug). Butternut squash, nectarines, and apple for the porcupines! I was as determined as a 6 year old waiting to see Santa to get a glimpse of these beauties on this special night! Brian called and I told him I’d call him back later- it’s porcupineo’clock! I have just been looking for them on the monitors, it never occurred to me to look out the side window in the living room! Perfect view of the porcuplatform, where I leave them their nightly snacks.
I brought the laptop upstairs at 8:00 so I could sit right next to the window while I worked. Of course, looking up every 15 seconds doesn’t translate to much research on Hinduism getting done! It got closer and closer to the time when I saw them last- 8:30. It was getting darker and darker out and harder to see. I looked out the window for the 800th time in 30 minutes at 8:33pm and OH MY GOD THERE IT WAS!!!!!!! I swear, it was more exciting than seeing St. Nick himself!
I had my game plan all set. When I had put the food out at 6:30 (cuz I ain’t about to walk through no cobra infested weeds after dark!!), I left the gate unlocked and slid it closed just so nothing could get in (baboons were already in bed). The thing that had scared her off the other day was me making noise unlocking and sliding the gate. I grabbed the camera that was next to me and opened the patio door as quietly as I could. Stepped out on to the astroturf in the backyard. It was making a “crunch” “crunch” sound every time I made a step, so I took really big steps and tried to stay on my tip toes. Got to the gate. Slowly slid it open about 3″, just enough to get the lens through. And there she was!!!!! About 10 feet in front of me! How I didn’t squeal out loud, I’ll never know! It was too dark to not use flash, and I had already popped the flash open so that click wouldn’t scare her. I figured I had one shot at this because the flash would scare her off, so it better be good. Well, what do you know? I’m naming this porcupine Behati, because just like the famous model (and wife of Adam Levine), they’re both from Africa and can WORK A CAMERA!! Sweet little Behati (who isn’t so little), just sat there happily munching away while I snapped pic after pic! She even modeled for me, turning to show me her best side! Oh, but I was in love!! Unlike with the penguins though, I had no desire to hug her. 🙂
And now, I present to you, my sweet little Behati!! Who needs fat old cookie hog St. Nick to come on Christmas Eve when you have PORCUPINES!!!!!!
Of course, I ran upstairs, called Brian (he’s on my priority list, just under porcupines!), and loaded the pictures. He’s probably deaf because I was screaming so loud as each one popped up!! Then, of course, I went into teacher mode and researched all about Behati. Here are the facts:
1. She’s a Cape Porcupine. Hystrix africaeaustralis
2. They are the biggest rodents in Africa, and the largest porcupines in the world! With their tail, about 3 feet long!
3. They are so cute they make you want to diiiiiiiiie!!!!
4. They scent mark their territory. I’ve smelled a little “skunky” odor out there a couple of times- I wonder if that’s because they’re marking the porcuplatform…
5. Did I mention they are THE COOLEST LOOKING LITTLE THINGS EVER!!!! EEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!
I told Brian that if we ever go on real safari, we’ll have to book a company that keeps a defibrillator on the vehicle. I’m this ga-ga over a porcupine in the backyard. Imagine me seeing a lion or rhino or zebra on the savanna. #dead
Merry Christmas, from the beautiful western cape of South Africa!! I am pleased to announce that I have slept decently two nights in a row with no meds. Huge relief! Woke up this morning and took out the trash (they pick up on Christmas Day!), washed my clothes, hung them out to dry, and went right to work on researching the religions of Malaysia for class. My goal was to have all 10 plans done before Brian got here. I’m on week 4, and it’s really slow going. There’s just SO MUCH research involved about things I don’t have much working knowledge of, and that, coupled with me trying to be a perfectionist with these lesson plans, makes for some looooooooooong days. But I’m quite pleased with what I have so far! I’m just getting realistic that I will probably finish 6 weeks instead of 10 by Jan 3. I need to slow down a bit and enjoy South Africa, because spring semester is going to be long and very busy! I’m not going to have much of a chance to even breathe when I get home…
I took a break around noon to prepare my Christmas dinner- South Africa style!! The menu includes:
Filet of Ostrich
Two types of Sweet Potatoes in Cinnamon Butter
Traditional South African Peppermint Caramel Dessert
Never had ostrich, no idea what to expect. It just sounded so…South African! So I bought it. 🙂 I did read a bit about it- that it’s really lean and dries out fast, so you can’t over cook it. Got it. Luckily there is a George Foreman Grill here. That thing is my LIFE at home! First, had to prep the veggies and get them in the oven.
Next, I took the ostrich out to season it and let it come to room temp. I really had no clue what the heck to season it with. There was a bottle of something called Monkey Gland Sauce in the frig. A quick check of the ingredients showed no sign of monkey glands or any other part thereof, so I figured what the heck. I threw a few spices from the cupboard on, slathered on some monkey gland sauce (upon further research, it’s a really popular bbq sauce in South Africa- except they call bbq “braai”- and I’m going to try to make some when I get home. Recipe is linked), and heated up the grill.
Dessert is always a big deal, and requires the most thought. Could I go out and get some chocolately what-not? Of course. The store was full of it. Actually, there was a lot of European type Christmas desserts at the store- fruitcakes and mince meat pies seemed to be pretty popular, as well as those little log shaped cakes (I forget what they’re called, start with a B). But I was in Europe for the past 2 Christmases- I wanted something South African! And then I saw this- peppermint (love it) and caramel (love it). Win-win! And seriously, how god awful could a combination of peppermint and caramel be??
While I was snapping pics of groceries, I brought out my go-to breakfast food. The homeowner had left a pack of these. Anything that says “Extra spicy” makes me run screaming in terror- I hate anything hot spicy. But I tried one my first day and it was amazing!! I played piano and was in beginner band (flute). I have played “Hot Cross Buns, Hot Cross Buns, One a Penny, Two a Penny, Hot Cross Buns” a zillion times, but I’ve never had one. It’s kind of like- I don’t know. Kind of like a soft non-gross fruitcake and kind of like raisin bread but more “spicy”-spicy being more fruity. I don’t know. All I know is that they are super yummy!
From prep time to ready to eat time was only about 35 minutes! I was really worried about over or under cooking the ostrich, but 6 minutes on the grill was absolutely perfect. Sat down at the table with a gorgeous view of False Bay and dug in. Oh. My. God. Ostrich, where have you been all my life!!! It is literally the most amazing meat I’ve ever had!! Even though it’s a bird, it’s more like beef than chicken. Like the most tender, melt in your mouth, flavorful meat EVER! I literally congratulated myself on this choice out loud! I did such an awesome job describing the taste of hot cross buns, let me try this…It’s like filet mignon, but even more light and tender and juicy. That “lightness” of taste has just a hint of a gamey taste to it- like absolute perfection. I don’t know- all I know is that you should run out to your nearest butcher and demand ostrich!
The veggies were delish! I saved a few of each type for Behati and friends for tonight. I figured they’d enjoy a few brussel sprouts! Man, I savored that ostrich to the very last bite. I’m so happy I have two other steaks in there for later! I was stuffed. Like seriously stuffed. This is the largest meal I’ve had since I’ve been here. But I’m never too full for dessert. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I thought it might be too sweet. It said the caramel was made from condensed milk, and that can be so syrupy sweet that it’s icky. Stuck my fork in- soft and fluffy! Took a bite. A spontaneous “OH MY GOD” echoed throughout the upstairs! This stuff is the BOMB! Not too sweet, just the right amount of peppermint to be festive but not overbearing. Oy. That stuff is DANGEROUS! I could eat the whole tub in one sitting!
All in all, I was quite pleased with myself. It’s literally the best meal I’ve had in a long time. Everything was perfect, easy to cook, and so very South African (at least I think so! That’s what it said on the box! 🙂 ). And the funny thing is that the adventure for tomorrow that I’ve had planned for a few days has something in common with today’s meal… Until tomorrow, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night (meaning sleeping 8 hours with no meds!)!!
Last night I got a Christmas treat! Behati brought Adam for a visit! Unfortunately, I didn’t prepare the gate beforehand, so I wasn’t able to get pictures. Hopefully they’ll both come back tonight. Today held a few surprises…starting with the wind picking back up again. My original adventure today after spending the past 2 days in the house was to go to a nearby ostrich farm. It’s pretty close, but I figured it would be super windy there too, so I nixed that plan. Plan B was the other activity that’s been on my list- the Two Oceans Aquarium at the V & A Waterfront in Cape Town. I had read on their website that they had added an Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) to their exhibit on December 21. The story about how they got it and the care they took to get it to its new temporary home (supposedly they release many of their animals after a period of time, which I have mixed feelings about), is quite amazing, and I would KILL to be the person who got to hand feed it! Mola molas are probably my most favoritest saltwater fish- they’re the largest bony fish in the world! I’ve only saw one once before, at the Atlanta Aquarium, so I was pretty excited!
Got my Uber and headed in to Cape Town. Guy dropped me off in front of some huge mall thing. My mall-o-phobia kicked in. There were people EVERYWHERE. Ugh. Walked through the mall, out the back, and followed the signs to the aquarium that was a couple of blocks away. The line was really long, but I got to bypass it because I bought my ticket online and saved 10% to boot! Once inside, it was crowded. REALLY crowded. With tons and tons of tourists. And they all had multiple children shorter than my armpit (my measuring stick for the presence of sufficient cognitive thinking skills- the only type of children I enjoy!). Kids were running around everywhere, banging on tanks, running in to me, shoving in front of me when I was standing in front of a tank to take a picture- all while their parents did nothing to reign in their little
demons darlings. So far, within the past 5 minutes I had been subjected to three things that I can’t stand- mindless consumerism, tourists, and small children. I really shouldn’t be allowed in public places unsupervised…
The aquarium was very kid friendly, I’ll say that. The tanks were clean, animals looked healthy. No complaints from me (those of you who know me, know that I was in the aquarium industry for about 25 years). It’s not the most spectacular aquarium in the world, but for the amount of space it’s pretty well planned out with some nice exhibits and a lot of educational material. And a few things I had never seen before, which is always exciting!
And I got to see something really rare- a common octopus doing something very uncommon- actually not hiding! It was great watching him swim to a crevice and presume the camouflaged position! #cephalogeek
There was a penguin exhibit, that was kinda stinky. I don’t know, it just didn’t feel right to me, but I must say the Rockhopper Penguins (Eudyptes moseleyi) were gorgeous!
And then I came to the very large “Predator Tank”. Inside of it was a big mesh holding pen. And inside of that was…..my Mola mola!!! Oh my god, but it was so amazing. I spent about 45 minutes total in the aquarium, 15 of it with this big, lovable, amazing creature! Taking pics behind glass is bad enough. Behind glass and through a mesh net- ugh. I’ve sent the aquarium a facebook message to see if they’re going to release it into the main tank soon. If so, I’ll go back and see it again.
I would have spent more time in the aquarium, but I just couldn’t take the noise and people anymore. I decided to walk into The Watershed- a huge building that housed a lot of African craft shops- more like booths actually. There were some beautiful things, but the whole scene was just too touristy/froo-froo for me. I had been at the waterfront for a little over an hour (about the amount of time it took to get there), and I was over it. I felt I needed a “palette cleanser” after having to deal with all of that, so I decided what the heck…I’ll go to the ostrich farm!
Got an Uber with the FRIENDLIEST driver I’ve had so far. We talked the whole way about all kinds of things. He speaks English, Swahili, and 3 other native languages. Every time I leave the United States, I realize just how dumb I am. As we drove further and further into the middle of no where, I started getting concerned about getting an Uber back…
Reached the farm, said a warm goodbye, and headed off to explore ostriches! Went to the office to buy my ticket, and they said an English tour had just started so just go ahead and join them. There were a group of about 30 people under a tree, and the guide was explaining all about ostrich breeding. I came in about 10 minutes late, and missed a lot I fear. I hate missing things like that! The people on this tour were SO. DAMN. RUDE!!! There were 2 different couples who insisted on having a conversation among themselves in full voice. I moved closer to the guide so I could hear. I wanted to record it, but it was so windy I knew the video would just sound like “sssssssssssswwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwzzzzzzzzzzzzzz”. 🙁 She asked if we wanted to stand on an egg to see how strong it was. Of course, being the Hermione of every tour group I’m ever in, my hand shot up.
We went inside for a mini lecture (YAY!!!!). Of course, I was on the front row and asking questions. And of course, the jerk tourists were STILL talking like they were the only people in the room. The guide would look at them every once in a while, giving them “the eye”, but they didn’t care. Man, I was pissed. I wanted clean video for my students. Anyway, I learned a lot of things. An ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain! Ostriches have the 2nd strongest hide on earth. Bet you can’t guess the 1st….KANGAROO!! Isn’t that crazy!! And ostriches are the 2nd fastest animal on earth, behind the cheetah. She talked a lot about incubation of the eggs. And when she was done, we got to look in the incubation rooms.
The next area was the baby grow out area. And OH MY GAWWWWWWWWWWD!!!! Guess what? I almost d-i-e died! They were SO cute!! The grown ones scare the crap out of me. They’re big, dumb, and intimidating as hell. But these bay-bays!!!! I wanted to jump in and kiss them all! Unfortunately, we couldn’t touch them. The first pen were the 2 week old babies- they were as big as big chickens! Then there was a 3 week, 4 week, and 5 week pen. The 5 weekers were as big as turkeys! It was insane how fast they grow! And how beautiful and camouflaged their colors are when they’re young.
Tour was over. I went into the gift shop, because I knew I wanted one of the decorated eggs as a souvenir. At the waterfront, the eggs were 700 rand (about $55). Here, they were only 300 rand!! Less than half price. I knew I hated that froo-froo craft market… As I was looking at the eggs, the guide came up and asked me if I needed any help. We started talking and I thanked her for the tour. She apologized for the jerks, and said she could barely talk over them, so didn’t even tell us a lot of stuff. She then started to tell me a lot of other things about the farm and the birds in general. I was in heaven! I know she singled me out because I was paying attention and asking questions! It’s good to be the Hermione! 🙂 It was 2pm now, and I was STARVING- I hadn’t eaten since about 7am. Went to the resturant and had an AMAZING ostrich filet (they pronounce it fill-it) with these crazy good fried potatoes and cole slaw. Only $15 with a drink and tip, so I was pleased with that. First time eating out since I’ve been here (I hate eating alone). There was no wifi, so I kept myself busy reading tourist brochures of local activities. Nothing popped.
Headed out to see the big birds- Bonnie, Connie, and Clyde (I know this because the tour guide told me in the “Mary Special Post Tour” 🙂 ). Dang. They are big. And scary. You could buy food to feed them from your hand. I watched other people do it and scream- they go after you pretty fast. Uh, yeah. I’ll pass. Took some pics of them, though. The males are bigger and have the black & white feather and red beaks. Females are smaller and brown.
Back to the gift shop to decide on an egg and stand. Then, I started searching for a wifi signal to get an Uber. I asked the staff. They told me 3 different areas to go stand to maybe get a signal. No luck. I asked someone else, and they said go to the gate. Walked all the way to the parking lot gate. No signal. Fucksticks. I’m in the middle of no where with no signal and no ride. Mary, circa 4 years ago would have had an epic curse-laden rant on hand for such an occasion. Mary, circa now, says “Fucksticks”, shrugs, and starts verbally hitchhiking. I approached 3 different people. “Hello. Are you a serial killer? No? Great! Any chance you’re heading to Simon’s Town?”. Well, I thought the serial killer part but left it out of the convo. A resounding “nope” from all of them. Mary, circa now, does not fear. Because I know these people are not going to shut the gates and throw me out in the street alone. I went back to the restaurant and explained my dilemma. They knew someone from Simon’s Town who would come get me, and they’d call them right now! WOO-HOO! See, Mary circa 4 years ago, things work out. No need to panic. 🙂
The absolute LOVELIEST woman walked up about 30 minutes later and said if I was waiting for a taxi! She was all smiles and light!! We got in the car and immediately hit it off. Talked about all kinds of things. Twice she told me I was a breath of fresh air! As mentioned earlier in this blog, I live for those compliments from locals!! I was sad when we pulled up to the house, sad to lose such good company. I said, “200 rand, right?”. She told me she didn’t even want to charge me, but her boss wouldn’t be pleased! If you are in Simon’s Town and need a ride, call Simon’s Town Shuttle.
Wow. What a day! Fed the porcupines and Behati showed up like clockwork at 8:30, but no Adam tonight. Next couple of days are going to be work filled, so don’t expect anything too exciting out of me. Oh! And here is the egg I got! I paid extra for this really cool carved stand that spoke to me instead of just getting the regular flat round one. Because my consumerism is based on experiences, not random, meaningless junk. And this egg will be an awesome addition to my travel display case at home- reminding me of a great experience!
DAY 13 and 14
Day 13, life couldn’t have been more boring. I worked 15 hours straight, and even the porcupines didn’t show up. 🙁 Winds are still blowing pretty strong. Day 14, almost a repeat of Day 13. Until I went into the kitchen around noon to get lunch…Did your windows rattle around 12pm Cape Town time?? No, it wasn’t an earthquake. It was me screaming. And I’m sure that no matter where you are in the world, you heard it. I went to put a dish in the sink, and this THING was in there. It was huge. It was disgusting. It was creepy as all hell. The fact that I didn’t drop the dish is truly a testament to my mad house sitting skillz. Because I let out a scream and jumped about a meter both up and backwards. After the initial shock wore off, I leaned in for a closer look. It reminded me of the super nasty mole crickets I’ve seen in the states- a really soft body. It looked like a cross between a giant cricket, a giant ant, and a giant nightmare. Slowly, the critter curiosity in me became stronger than the fear. I knew I had to get it out of the sink (way to big to wash down the drain). I was really concerned about it jumping, or killing me by spitting venom or some koo-koo uncivilized African thing, but it was SO big, and its hind legs really didn’t look strong enough to propel it very far. I seriously considered coming downstairs to google it before I got too close, but figured I was safe. So I got a tupperware and scooped it out. It didn’t make too much of a fuss.
I snapped those couple of pics. My face was less than a foot from it when I was taking the pics, but I was so enthralled at this point, I didn’t care. When our photo shoot was over, I took it out in the backyard and let it loose. Then I came to google it. I googled “big cricket South Africa”. After seeing images of cricket games, I refined it to “big cricket insect South Africa”. And what came up was something that looked exactly like my critter, commonly known as a Parktown Prawn. And get a load of this…they are NASTY buggers (no pun intended)!!! They will HISS when threatened!!! Not only that, but they can jump A METER!!! And they usually will jump RIGHT AT/ON YOU!!!! And if that wasn’t bad enough, they will squirt out a horribly rancid smelling black liquid feces when agitated!!! WTDDF (what the double dutch fillintheblank)!!!! Had it done any ONE of those things, I would be blogging right now from either the hospital or a hotel. The only thing about my ID that bothered me was that I could really only find reports of it around Johannesburg. Apparently people there are scared to death of the things, and there are horror stories and videos all over the ‘net about them. Holy. Crap. Ola. I was so happy mine was docile! It’s abdomen was so soft looking and super fat, I figured it was a female full of eggs who probably came in (how???) to get water. The drought here is awful. I happily posted my find on the Entomology Facebook page. A few people agreed with my Parktown Prawn ID. But one lady said no, it was a Sia pallidus, which looks very similar to the species I had IDed it as, but is found in the Cape. That made better sense. Especially because these guys are burrowers, so no need for super strong, leap terrified Americans in a single bound, hind legs. Phew. Scorpions in the bathroom in Costa Rica (I killed that thing dead, dead, dead by drowning it in a puddle of bug spray). Giant crickets in the sink in South Africa. Oh, the adventures never end. At least it broke up the work day a bit! And qualifies as my only adventure in 2 days. I’m prepping for the beginning of the spring semester for online classes- they start January 9, so everything has to be ready by the time Brian gets here. Busy, busy, busy…
Day 15, I woke up from another good (non medicated) sleep. That’s like 3 in a row now. I’m finally back on a decent schedule of going to sleep around 10:30 and waking up around 6. I got out of bed and something seemed “off”. Something was “different”. I thought about it for a second. WAIT!! It doesn’t sound like I’m living in a wind tunnel!!! I threw open the shutters and sure enough, the bush outside was still!!! WOO-HOO!! After 3 straight days of incessant sssssssswwwwwwwwwweeeeeeeeehhhhhhhhhhh noise, it was silent! And after 2 straight days of being cooped up in the house working, I was ready to get the heck outta here! But I couldn’t go far, because alas, I do still have a ton of work to do and I have a day trip planned for tomorrow. So I decided to head down to see my penguins. After sitting for 2 days straight, I figured the walk would do me some good.
Got to the beach and man, it was crowded! Even the “locals” area before you get to the area where the penguins are. I walked through to the small boardwalk where I was last time, rounded a corner, and there they were! I said out loud (spontaneously talking out loud is becoming a serious habit), “OH! There they are! Hello, my babies!”. There were some people behind me who laughed. Oy. Inside your head voice, Mary. INSIDE your head…. But it’s such a rush when you first see them- even if you’ve seen them before.
Took several shots, and continued toward the pay area of Boulders Beach. The homeowner had told me there is another boardwalk on the other side of that where you don’t have to pay. I quickly found it and headed toward Seaforth Beach. It was even more crowded in this area! Holy moly, everyone was at the beach! Understandable, because it was literally a perfect day. Sunny, about 78 degrees, and no wind. Boulders Beach is gorgeous. If there hadn’t been so many people, I probably would have paid to go down there. Kept walking down the boardwalk to Seaforth beach. There were several tables set up with vendors and various African handicrafts. Nothing popped though.
My plan had been to walk to here and turn around. But the day was so lovely, and I was so sick of work, that I just kept going toward town. I walked into several of the shops, but again nothing really popped. I’m not the “go into a shop and browse” kind of girl. I am definitely not the “go into a shop and buy something just to have something to do” girl.
I considered getting lunch, but the lure of a free sandwich at the house won out. Headed back. Stopped and peeked into a cemetery on the side of the road. Lots of graves from the early 1900s. I had been out for a couple of hours and it was pretty hot, so I walked back down to Seaforth beach and stopped in at a little juice window. Got a carrot/orange/pineapple juice with ginger for about $1.50- not bad. I knew I needed sustenance to make it back up the hill. Walked back along the boardwalk all the way to the golf course across from my ‘hood, then started up the hill. That hill is no joke. And it’s the very end of it that’s the worse. And at the end of that are four flights of stairs to get to the kitchen for water. I was SPENT. Looked at my walking app, and I had done 5.63 miles!! Dang! Promptly came into my room and napped for an hour. Got up and worked. Behati showed up at 8:45, but didn’t bring Adam. I tried to get a pic, but the wind picked up again and I didn’t have my ponytail holder in. Hair was everywhere and when I was trying to get it out of the way of the camera, I spooked her. But I did find another quill when I went out to feed!! Two big adventures scheduled for tomorrow!!
DAY 16, 17, 18
I’m behind. I know. It’s been a hectic few days. Happy New Year and blah, blah, blah. Anyway, here goes…
Day 16 is adventure day!! YAY!! And today was going to have not one, but TWO adventures in the Hout Bay area! But guess what? It ended up as three and the unexpected one was the best one of all…
Adventure #1: World of Birds
I was leery about this place. I even asked the homeowner. It’s billed as a sanctuary, but there were mixed reviews online. I’ll give my review after I give you a tour. Here’s one thing I knew for sure- it is a stop for the HOHO bus, which means flocks (pun intended) of tourists- my kryptonite! So I decided to be smart and beat the crowds. It opened at 9, and I intended to be there right when it opened, hoping lazy tourists were still in bed. Called for my Uber and had another wonderful, friendly driver from Zimbabwe. We talked the whole way. There was no traffic, and we got there at 8:35. I stood outside. A lady came out and said they opened at 9. I said I know, and was just waiting. At 8:50 I guess she felt sorry for me and let me in! First one in the door and not another person in site! #heaven
World of Birds is privately owned on about 10 acres with over 3000 (yes, 3 THOUSAND) birds! It’s the largest bird park in Africa. And I must say, the way this place is laid out made the OCD girl in my very happy. It’s impossible to miss anything if you just keep going in a straight line, basically. The aviaries are really big. Many of them you walk into and are just “in there” with the birds. Others, the birds are behind a barrier- but those are few. The aviaries generally house several species, and I was pretty pleased with how natural they were. There was a huge variety of birds here from all over the world. But I was only focused on the African species- since the chances of me seeing these birds in the wild is about slim to none. So that’s what I’ll show here. I took over 265 pictures today in a little over 2 hours- that’s how cool these birds were! Plus, I generally had to take multiple upon multiple shots. Birds aren’t statues! 🙂 And there weren’t just birds. There were tortoises. Meerkats that would literally run up to me, roll around on the ground, and make the sweetest little chattering noises!! All kinds of things!! So now, I present to you, my best shots of the day! It was so hard to narrow them down…
Ok. So pros of World of Birds. Biggest pro hands down was that because I got there when it opened, I didn’t ever have another
idiot tourist with their devil spawn precious children harassing looking at the birds in my vicinity. I was alone in Every. Single. Aviary!!!!! By the time I finished at 11am, there was a line out to the parking lot to get in. The aviaries kind of are arranged one after the other, so if you follow them all in order and you’re the first one in, you won’t see anyone else. Just me, talking to and interacting with the birds alone. That was a MAJOR pro. The birds also all looked very well taken care of. Some of the water ponds could stand a good cleaning, but they were all getting fresh food and seemed as happy as birds who aren’t wild can be. Ok- now the cons. I’m not convinced this is a rescue sanctuary. Maybe I’m wrong. There were just SO many species though, and from SO many parts of the world. It did feel a little more “zoo” and a little less “sanctuary” to me. Also, with the aviaries being so open and the birds so accessible, I worry about what a constant stream of tourists does to them. Normally, I let idiot tourists go about their business and just try to avoid them. But if I see them harassing an animal, I always speak up. I could see that happening a lot here. However, that’s just my opinion as I never had the displeasure of being next to a tourist the entire time. There was a lot of staff around feeding, so maybe after feeding time they’re keeping an eye on people who have that jerk tendency…
Adventure #2: BAY HARBOR MARKET- HOUT BAY
I don’t like to shop. Seriously. But I do like to buy things that have meaning from local people. And that’s what brought me to the Bay Harbor Market (well, that, and the fact that it was close to World of Birds so I was trying to get the most out of my Uber ride from Simon’s Town!). It’s only open on Friday evenings and the weekend, so I was already as prepared as I could be for a flood of people. Look, I am seriously the most socially awkward person on earth. I’m ridiculous. And I’m so tuned out to society at large, that I have zero spatial awareness of who is around me, because I don’t care about any of them. Literally, Brian and I can be walking down the street and he’ll say, “Did you see that 10 foot tall woman dressed like a rainbow glitter clown with a monkey on one shoulder and an anaconda on the other, riding a unicorn?!”. And I’ll say no. And mean it. It just doesn’t make it to my radar. If I’m not interested in the people around me, they don’t exist. Personality flaw on my part, or brilliant trait- you can decide (my vote is the latter). Anyway, here I was, stuck in hoards of white people. There were some cool things in the booths to look at, but nothing really popped. The aisles were kind of like a ladder- two main ones with little ones in between. OCD me was methodically making my way through by winding in and out of each rung. I walked down a main aisle and turned into a “rung” booth. There were purses on both sides of me. Someone was walking directly toward me, so I moved to the side a bit and kept walking. They moved the same direction and kept walking. They weren’t moving, so I looked up and said, “Excuse me” and moved to the other side. They did the same. Why? BECAUSE IT WAS ME!!!!! I was playing chicken with myself in a mirror. This is how unaware I am of people around me and how much I could care less about looking at them or making any kind of eye contact. I just want to blend in and be ignored. This story has a point…I swear.
There was a food area, and I walked through it but it all seemed like kinda fancy farmer’s market type food. Fancy pizzas and sandwiches and coffees and such. Nothing jumped out as being unusual and “African”. And there were just so many people. I couldn’t stand it another second, and had to get out of there. Walked out on to the sidewalk and thought there HAD to be something else right around here. Behind the market were some workshops that weren’t crowded and were pretty cool. I just don’t like taking pictures of other people’s art if I’m not buying it. Seems rude. I’m not rude. I’m just stand offish. 🙂 Went back on the sidewalk and saw this….
ADVENTURE #3: XOMA AOB
Now THIS was something interesting!!! I’m not going to lie, I had a teeny bit of apprehension as I went up the hill. Because NO tourists were up here. I was entering a neighborhood. The path ended after a little ways, and dead ended into a street. I was in a straight up neighborhood at this point, and there wasn’t another sign. I stood there for a few seconds, getting my bearings and trying to figure out if it was prudent to continue walking through this neighborhood, when I heard someone behind me say “Hello, guest.”. I turned around and made perfect eye contact with two amazing blue grey eyes. Eyes that were framed by a massive set of awesome dreadlocks. Dreadlocks that were atop a light brown body that didn’t look like a color of “black” that I had seen. A light brown body that, and I swear to god I am not lying because I couldn’t make this up, was only dressed in an animal skin loin cloth. And I felt perfectly comfortable, at ease, and KNEW I was in the right place! Unlike the girl who was playing chicken with herself in the mirror at the market below…
I don’t even know how the conversation started. All I know is that it did. And I finally felt truly connected to Africa in this moment. He talked about the KhoiKhoi (pronounced Koi-Koi, like the fish) people, and how he is a descendant of them- although about 9 generations back Europeans settlers entered his bloodline. How they are the indigenous people of South Africa. How the Dutch came in and forced his people off the land. He wove a mesmerizing story that I felt I was becoming a part of. That I somehow understood as I compared it to what I know of our Native Americans. How they tried to assimilate them, steal them from their parents, force them into the white ways. How many ran and hid to escape. We talked about the impact is has on the descendants of the KhoiKhoi now, how they have been so ashamed of their culture, how speaking their language could have gotten them killed, but how many are now trying to reclaim that culture and are proud of it. How I shouldn’t call anyone in this neighborhood colored. Colored was a catch all label from the Europeans to erase people’s true identities. That he was KhoiKhoi, not colored. I stood there, with just a fence between us, for over an hour. Engaged. Connected. While dozens of chickens pecked through the plastic bag he held to get the vegetable scraps out through the holes. While every passerby greeted this man, sometimes saying things in their language that included clicking noises instead of words. I saw his baby grandson, his wife. He told me of how the city had tried to force him off of his land so they could take it for development. How he stood up for himself and fought back. How he ended up doing a land swap for the property he’s on now. How he is slowly building it up to what he wants it to be. How he is the herbalist for his people and grows the plants and knows the remedies his grandmother taught him. MY GOD THE ENTIRE THING WAS BEAUTIFUL!!!!! And I don’t even know how it started after, “Hello, guest.” I didn’t want to leave. But more and more people were coming out of the house wanting his attention, and I knew I should be going. We shook hands. His name is Xoma Abo. He gave me his phone number and said I could come back with Brian and he would show me more. When I got home, I googled his name. He is well known. There is a short documentary about him. I am so proud of the fact that I don’t belong in the tourist hordes. That I am more comfortable outside of them. Because outside of that facade of money and trinkets and entitlement is where people like Xoam Abo exist. And people like my friends Carlos and David in Belize. People that I connect with. People that I listen to. And that’s important, because I don’t connect or listen easily with most. I don’t have any pictures of him, but here are two videos I found online about him. WATCH AT LEAST THE SHORT ONE (the first one)!!! You’ll learn something awesome in 3 minutes. I promise.
This is the full 15 minute documentary. Well worth a watch.
On the drive back to Simon’s Town, the Uber driver took Chapman’s Peak road. The views are STUNNING!! BREATHTAKING!! I had already planned to come up here with Brian, so I’ll get good pics then. But for now, here’s a sneak peek!
Days 17 and 18, New Year’s Eve and Day, were nothing but work, work, work. And more work. I have one last adventure planned for tomorrow before Brian gets here, and then Brian will be here the next day!! Then, get ready, because it will be non stop adventures for a week straight!!!
This morning I drank my last Diet Dr. Pepper. That can only mean one thing. BRIAN WILL BE HERE TOMORROW!!! Today’s adventure was a special treat, because I did something I’ve never done before- I met up with a couple who is also housesitting in Cape Town! I found them on one of the facebook groups for housesitters, and asked if they wanted to go to the Cape Town Street Parade with me on January 2. It’s a HUGE event with a TON of people (60-100 thousand), and I wasn’t really sure I wanted to navigate that alone. They said yes, and we met up. What a lovely couple, and I really enjoyed spending the day with them!
I arrived a little earlier than our meeting time, because I wasn’t sure what the traffic situation would be like. This was my first time really “in” the city of Cape Town. It’s quite charming! I wandered around in the PanAfrican building- 3 stories of African crafts. There were a couple of other indoor craft markets in the area, and then I looked around Greenmarket Square, an outdoor craft market. They were all pretty touristy, but had some interesting things! The vendors all greet you as you walk by and tell you that you can touch things. They’re definitely sales people, but not as pushy as Mexico/Central America for sure. I was pretty mesmerized by the masks and carvings from all over Africa.
Met Ian and Vanessa at our scheduled time (yay for prompt people!!), and started walking around town. We headed up to the Bo Kaap neighborhood, known for its super colorful houses. This neighborhood started off as a slave neighborhood for the Cape Malays (slaves brought here from Malaysia by the Dutch). Of course, now it’s being gentrified and the houses are being bought up by wealthy people, destroying the fabric and culture of the neighborhood.
So about this parade. It has about a zillion names. Kaapse Klopse (which means Cape Clubs). Tweede Nuwe Jaar Parade (which means Second New Year- it’s held on Jan 2). Coon Carnival (Called this under apartheid. NOT politically correct, but even my Uber driver who is from South Africa called it that. I’d never dare!). But it seems like the most recent term is Cape Town Street Parade. Traditionally, slaves were given Jan 2 off to celebrate, so the day holds a special meaning. Basically, there are a bunch of minstrel groups (about 60) that compete for prizes. The bands are dressed in colorful costumes, many members have their faces painted, it’s just a lot of fun!! The parade was supposed to start at 1pm. We waited. And waited. And waited. And went and had drinks. And waited. And waited. FINALLY we found a decent spot to stand and saw the first troupe come by- kind of. They actually stopped and kind of wandered around. Some of them sat down. Huh? We stood there for about 20 minutes, then that group finally passed and we crossed the street. The 2nd group wasn’t right behind the 1st. There was a huge gap. So we walked up the parade route toward the start area. Finally we got to a place where the 2nd troupe was and we could see. People set up huge tents all along the route, so it’s almost impossible to get a decent vantage point for pictures- or to even see! Then, this troupe did the same thing. Stopped, wandered, and sat. What the hell??? We waited and waited and waited. Then decided to walk up the route further. This continued like 4 times!! The parade had started at 1. By 5:30 we had seen six or seven troupes, and only because we were walking up the route! Had we stayed in our original place, we would have maybe seen 3! It was seriously ridiculous. When we could see a troupe, it was so much fun! I would have been super giddy if it had been like a normal parade with a flow. But all of the walking, trying to find a troupe, waiting for them to do something other than sit or wander, and trying to even find a space between the tents to see anything got a little frustrating. We ditched out at almost 6pm. I can’t imagine staying to see all 60! We’d be there for 2 days!! Here are some of the shots I got over heads and through tents! This parade really has potential to be amazing and super fun…
Countdown to Brian (who is on a 7 hour layover in Zurich as I write this)…T-minus 16 hours!!!!!!!
It’s Brian day!!!!!! YAY!!!! Basically, I got up, did some work, and grabbed an Uber to go pick him up at 2:15. The Uber driver had an accent that was very different from any I’ve heard so far. I asked where he was from. Congo!!! WOW!! I was so excited and told him he was the first person I’ve met from there! He was excited about me being from Los Angeles. Go figure. 🙂 Lots of talk about safety in his country for foreigners vs. citizens. Talk about the direction the world is heading. This topic is on the minds of so many people I encounter.
Got to the airport, waited about 20 minutes, and finally saw my baby!!! He was about 36 hours out from leaving the house in LA. A connection in Zurich with a 7 hour layover and a connection in Johannesburg with a 2 hour layover. Poor thing. We found our rental car kiosk, got our car, and like the champ he is he maneuvered driving on the left side of the road with no problem.
Now, I had bought myself an AMAZING travel pillow that I used on my flights over, but couldn’t say anything because I had bought one for Brian for Christmas. I had asked Brian when he texted me from Zurich how he liked it. He said “long story- I’ll tell you in person”. I figured he had forgotten it or popped it (it’s inflatable) or something stupid (and I was pretty pissed!). Then, he told me the story. So, dear readers, instead of my adventure for Day 20, let’s hear Brian’s adventure…
So he gets to LAX. He uses his work backpack for his travel backpack. It’s his only carry on (he checked the bag full of DIET DR PEPPER!!!). Runs through the scanner, it goes down the chute for an extra check. No biggie. They put it up on the screen and say, “What is that? Is that a gun part?”. Brian didn’t say this part, but if I had to guess he got very deer in the headlights- because my man had inadvertently just brought a bolt carrier (I have no freaking idea what that is, but some gun part) through the TSA security check!!! See, Brian works in the movie props industry. And they do a LOT of work with guns- supplying them for movies and tv shows and such. And this part was in his backpack unbeknownst to him…. He answers that yes, indeed it is a gun part, and he had missed it when he was cleaning out his backpack. TSA agent’s response, “I’m going to need to call a supervisor.”
The mid level supervisor shows up, looks at it, and says, “We’re going to need someone higher up.” Uh oh. Next comes the head Grand Pooba TSA supervisor (remember, none of this is happening at a lightening pace, and Brian has a plane to catch!!). He wanted Brian to explain what was going on. Brian explained that he does guns for the movie industry, has parts, and forgot to remove it from his backpack when he was cleaning it out. Grand Pooba says, “We’re going to have to call this one in.” Brian is now surrounded by Grand Pooba, 2 airport police, and 1 LAPD officer!!! Brian explains his story, they all recognized what the part was, and that it was so benign that it could be bought by a kid with babysitting money over the counter. But, since it was a gun part, it wasn’t allowed in carry on. (Mary’s note: I can’t even take a Dr. Pepper through TSA, and Brian is shooting (pun intended) to get gun parts through!!). At this point, because it’s such a thing and they need to keep people moving through, they ROPE BRIAN OFF. So they’re all behind a rope, running his criminal record through the system. While they’re doing the interview, they ask Brian why he would have a part like that. He explains how they’re for the movies, and when shows like the Walking Dead have all of those guns, he converts them to blank firing weapons. Name drop on the Walking Dead! They all thought that was super cool. Cop performing the interview looks Brian in the eye, says he believes him, but needs to be able to explain to his boss why Brian has the part and what they should do from here. So now they call in the airport police sargent!! He looks at it, asks Brian the same questions and a zillion others down to what’s his dog’s middle name- and after explaining everything again and making Brian show them all his tattoos, they have to call in the HIGHEST level airport police guy to make a final decision!!!
Highest level airport police guy sits around and pow-wows with the growing pool of TSA and cops. Of course, all of the passengers going through security are staring at Brian like he’s a freaking terrorist or something. And remember- HE HAS A PLANE TO CATCH!!!! After their big meeting, they decide it’s fine but he can’t carry it on. It has to be checked. He couldn’t throw it away, because then they would have to file a report on it and that would take forever. Brian is about 40 minutes out from his flight at this point, and one of the officers said, “Ok- now you have to go back downstairs, check your bag, and come back through security.” Obviously that’s not all going to happen in 40 minutes, and because Brian is so damn charming (and probably because they all think he’s super awesome after name dropping the Walking Dead) and they don’t want him to miss his flight, they give him a police escort down to the Swiss Air check in counter and take him to the front of the line. While they’re walking down, the cop calls CSI to cancel them- they had called them to come and take pictures!! He checks his bag. Then, they escort him back upstairs and take him to the head of the security line to be rescreened. He shook hands with all the officers, offered them a tour of his prop warehouse if they ever wanted to come over, and was on his way. And that, my friends, is why Brian didn’t have his travel pillow with him! Never a dull moment with this boy, I swear!!
What was Brian’s first adventure in Africa?? Going to the grocery store!! Woo-hoo!! It’s a party a minute when you’re with me! We stopped off at Pick and Pay, then went over to Woolworth’s that was in the same mall. Got enough food to last us the rest of the trip. Got to the house, gave him the tour, and we had a braai (bbq)- grilling ostrich steaks that we bought on outside grill. We fed the porcupines at about 7pm, and Behati showed up to greet Brian promptly at 8:30. He wanted to hug her. If you think I’m a freak for animals, Brian beats me by a mile (kilometer?). So nice to have my man here and have a CAR!! Mega adventures all over the place commence tomorrow!!! Get ready for a barrage of awesomeness- we have some great things planned….
WOW WOW WOW!! What an amazing first full day with Brian!! Because I knew he’d be tired, I didn’t want to plan anything too far away, so we decided to go to Cape Point which is super close to Simon’s Town. We got there early, around 8:30am and entered the park. What’s so special about this place? Well, I thought it was just the Cape of Good Hope (the south western tip of Africa that was such a BIG DEAL in history when the Portuguese- namely De Gama- finally got all the way around it so Europe could reach the Indies without having to go through the Arab land routes). Careful. I teach history and could go on and on about this stuff all day! Anyway, we drive into the park and the landscape is GORGEOUS! Crazy cool rocks everywhere- with shapes and positions the likes I’ve never seen. And the fynbos is just amazing!! What is fynbos, you ask? It’s the native vegetation of the Western Cape- kind of like the rainforest of the Amazon. A ton of different plant species that are specially adapted for the conditions here. And the variety of plants is just amazing!! I would love to be here when everything is in bloom. We’re barely into the park when I see something big and black far off in the distance moving. IT WAS A WILD OSTRICH!! An ostrich. In the WILD! I was losing my mind. This thing looked just so out of place- as if it shouldn’t even be able to survive without someone taking care of it or something! It was just hard to reconcile in my mind that this bird was in the…wait for it….WILD!! And we saw more than that first one! We saw several males and a few females during our drive all through the park.
We keep driving, and Brian spots a herd of antelope- in the WILD!! Oh my god- I’ve only seen things like this in a zoo!! Research shows they are Bontebok, and my but they are gorgeous! And get a load of this- they were hunted so extensively by colonists (read: damn Europeans!), that by 1931 only seventeen (yes, 17!) of them remained! The only thing that saved them is that unlike most antelope, they can’t jump. So they couldn’t jump out of the fences people created to protect them! Now, there are about 3,000 in the wild, but only in protected areas. Please take a moment and read this article. It really is a fascinating story! We were fortunate enough to see two small herds- each with about 6 animals.
We pulled off and did a little hike. STUNNING views!! Beautiful fynbos!! And a bunch of cool lizards!
We take off down the open road again. When you were on the kind of “side roads” there were hardly any cars around, which was great! We were heading back toward the main road when something in the grass on the side caught my eye. I screamed “STOP! BACK UP!!”. And looky looky what we found! An angulate tortoise! I remembered that its species name was angulata from my visit to World of Birds. We jumped out and Brian picked him up so I could get a few pics. This guy was actually pretty fast on the ground! And simply stunning. After his photoshoot, we let him go and that’s when I saw the sign. 🙂
We continued on to a little visitor center (yes, all of this happened before we even got to the visitor center!!). There were some gorgeous trees surrounding it. They had a whale skeleton of a Southern Right Whale in the courtyard that was really cool, and several really interesting displays inside.
Next stop- some tidal pools! You know I was in heaven!! There were TONS of limpets, several different species. A few tiny little fish. LOTS of anemones. And one pool, and just one pool in one little area, had some sea stars- a type I’ve never seen before! The ocean was just beautiful…
Jumped back into the car and followed the signs to the Cape of Good Hope. As I mentioned earlier, this is the south western tip of Africa, and it was a MAJOR feat for the Europeans (Portuguese were first) to sail around it so they could reach the Indies. Vasco de Gama (you may remember him from such classes as History- Troy McClure) was the first to make it around and to the Indies. There’s a big cross here erected in his honor. (Dear world: Big whoop. Where’s the monument to the original people who this land belonged to?) Got to the Cape and there were a ton of people! Someone offered to take our picture which was very nice, then we headed out toward the tide pools! Not much in them, but a ton of protist sea weed, primarily kelp.
Next stop, the lighthouses of Cape Point. There were 2 choices. Walk up, up, UP the hill to the lighthouse, or take the funicular. I put the FUN in FUNicular, so we decided on that option!! It’s called the Flying Dutchman. And I learned that the famous ghost ship with the same name roams these waters during treacherous storms…how cool. I looked, but no Captain Jack Sparrow in sight. The view from the top was outrageous! There was ocean on both sides, and not one, but two lighthouses! The first lighthouse was built too high up and was covered in misty clouds most of the time, rendering it useless. So another was built further down the cliffs that we hiked to. My fear of heights set in, because the trail was narrow and the cliff was high and steep!
It wasn’t just the fear of heights I had to face. My other fear was here as well. Baboons. But I learned that they really aren’t so bad, and no where near as scary as the macaques in Malaysia. That said, I wouldn’t go anywhere near them with food, but they seemed pretty well behaved.
Speaking of food, we ate our picnic lunch and then drove off the main road again and away from all of the cars, tour buses, and tourists. Here we saw more ostrich and bontebak. The road ended, but the map said something called “Venus Pools” was a little further up, so we hiked up there. WOW! Gorgeous! It is a natural rock tidal pool that is filled when the tide comes in. Brian laid down on a huge rock and said he could take a nap. I told him not on my watch. (See above baboon captions!). We stayed a little while. It was really gorgeous, relaxing, and peaceful, and only a few people around.
We drove on the rest of the roads we hadn’t been on yet, and left the park around 2:30. We spent a good 6 hours in Cape Point and really loved it! The views are out of this world, the landscape is just stunning, and there are ANIMALS!!!
I knew we couldn’t come home that early, because Brian would fall asleep. He really needed to stay up until at least 8:30. So I suggested we go check out the penguins. We parked the car at the bottom of the hill to the house, and walked the boardwalk all the way to Seaforth beach and back. Came home, cooked dinner, planned out our INSANE AWESOME adventure for tomorrow, did a little more planning of things for the rest of the week, fed the porcupines and filled the sun/sugar bird feeders, and went through all of our pictures to narrow them down. Brian’s sleeping next to me now while I write this. He’s such a damn trooper, and I love him so much…especially when we’re traveling the world together!! We do it so well. 🙂
Today we went to Cheetah Experience Ashia. It’s about an hour and a half drive from Simon’s Town through some really beautiful country! And we had to be there before 7 to begin our full day of volunteering, which means we woke up at 4:30! How Brian is hanging in there with me, I don’t know…
Cheetah Experience Ashia is literally a brand new sanctuary. I did some research on it, and it seemed to be a really good one. Their primary goal is increasing and strengthening the genetic diversity of cheetahs through captive breeding programs, with an ultimate goal of being able to release cheetahs back into the wild in protected areas. Did you know that the world cheetah population is at less than 7,000 individuals?! And they are confined to tiny pockets of habitat, with fences blocking their freedom of movement between these pockets. That means that the few cheetahs that are left are forced to interbreed, which weakens the genetic diversity and strength of the species. Game reserves have to do cheetah swaps with each other to get new genes into their cheetah populations to keep them strong. The sanctuary is also heavily involved in education and research. The director of Cheetah Experience Ashia owns Cheetah Experience Bloemfontein, about a 10 hour drive away, and is seriously dedicated to these animals! So that’s the background- now, let’s get to our adventure!
The sanctuary is also a working farm. There are vineyards (they send their grapes out to be made into their own private label wine), olive trees (they send their olives out to be pressed into their own private label olive oil), and guava trees (they sell those to a juice company). It’s a spectacular piece of land! As we pulled into the driveway, a cheetah came running out to greet us, and followed his fence along the driveway with our car. As we walked back to the volunteer house, he walked along the fenceline with us. So cool!! Our first job was to go grab bowls of prepared raw meats and head back to the cheetah camps- the HUGE enclosures where the cheetahs are. I got to feed Xena by walking into her enclosure and setting her bowl down on her feeding platform. Xena was supposed to be a breeder, but she decided she wasn’t really that into mating (we’ve all been there!), so she now stays alone in a huge enclosure. In the wild, female cheetahs live alone. Brian fed Abby. Abby was also in the breeding program. She was into mating (we’ve all been there!), and got pregnant with 5 cubs! However, when it was time to give birth, the first cub got stuck- requiring Abby to have an emergency C-section. Fortunately, all of the cubs were saved and Abby as well. However, due to these complications she was removed from the breeding program and lives alone in her huge enclosure.
Next up was clean up duty. I have never in my life been to ANY animal facility as clean and regimented as this one, and having been in the pet industry for 25 years, I pay attention to these things. There were some long term volunteers there as well. They started scrubbing down the feeding platforms, sleeping platforms, and water troughs. Brian was put on poop patrol with one of the long term volunteers, and I followed him. Apparently not only do I possess ostrich eye and tortoise eye, but cheetah poop eye as well. Life skills. Resume builders. 🙂 First we went into the camp with the “A cubs”- Alpha, Ava, and Anya. Alpha is the biggest cheetah at the sanctuary, and he’s intimidating looking as hell. These aren’t lions or tigers, but they’re still big. And they may be the weakest of the big predators, but they are still predators. With big teeth. And there’s not just one in this camp to keep an eye on, but three. We’re walking the huge camp, looking for poop, when Alpha decides to come and check us out. And by check us out, I mean he took on this kind of stalker stance and was looking straight at us. IN-TIM-I-DATING. Especially when the workers who were outside the camp were saying, “Be still.” UM, WHY?! Eek. He didn’t approach us, but in that moment my healthy respect for these animals got even healthier. I was ready to get out of that camp, as I didn’t feel very comfortable. Brian, aka Dr. Doolittle, was fine. Then we poop patrolled Abby’s camp. She just sat on her hill watching us. Next was Jesse and Pepsi’s camp. They’re both females, but grew up together so still live together. Jesse is the mother of Abby, and also Libby and Zeus (who we’ll meet later). Pepsi had labor complications with her first litter (the cub was saved), but she’s since been removed from the breeding program because of this. Next we cleaned Xena’s camp. And that left just one camp- Liberty (nicknamed Libby). Libby is a unique cat. By the time she was 7 weeks old, she was still very tiny and wasn’t gaining any weight. The vet found that she had been born with a cleft palette, and was shocked she had survived this long, because with that abnormality she wasn’t able to create a strong enough suction to nurse properly. She’s now almost 2 years old and has had 4 surgeries. The vet has done all they can do, and there is still a small hole in the roof of her mouth. She has to be fed bite sized pieces of boneless meat to prevent the food from entering her nasal cavity. She also has a special dining table that allows her to eat with her head completely up, further preventing food from going the wrong way. After all of the sedations and operations, performed by men, she doesn’t like men anymore (we’ve all been there!). So we didn’t go into her camp. Let me tell you something about poop patrol. First, cheetahs don’t bury their poop like a house cat. It’s just out on the ground. And some of them prefer to poop in high places. And as a testament to how clean this place is, there was practically no poop at all to be found. These camps are cleaned methodically every day. It really left me with a good feeling about this place, and that the care of the animals is priority number one. In fact, they don’t even allow children under 1.5 meters tall to see the cats. Small
potential prey items children agitate the cats. Would they make more money by letting families in? Yep. But it’s not in the cat’s best interest.
What do you do after breakfast? Wash the dishes!! Again, everything is meticulously cleaned with anti-bacterial soap. The sink was in the room with the freezer where they prepare the food. There was a chart on the wall showing all of the different kinds of meat they feed the cheetahs for variety and nutrition. Each is color coded in the freezer. Chicken, Cow, Eland, Oryx, Rabbit, Sable, Antelope, Zebra, Calf, Donkey, Horse, Ostrich, Rainbow Chicken, Springbok, and Wildebeest.
We were now told it was time to babysit the Servals. There were 3 of them (I can’t remember their names) and they were AWESOME!! No where near as big as a cheetah, so I wasn’t intimidated at all. They were just like big old housecats, and they LOVED to hang out and play in the tall grass. We hung out with them by ourselves for about an hour, interacting with them and keeping them entertained. Honestly, we thought it was more of a “Let the servals babysit the day volunteers so we can get some work done” kind of thing! But it was really cool either way! 🙂
We had now met all of the cats at the sanctuary except for three. First up was Zeus. He was the cheetah that originally greeted us when we drove in. Much smaller than the adults in the back camps, but still plenty big! Zeus has a much shorter tail than he should, so his genetics won’t allow him to be in the breeding program. He’s also very dark colored- much darker than the rest of the cheetahs, and his eyes are very dark orangy/brown. He’s only 10 months old- a kitten. And what do we know about kittens? They like to play. Zeus normally doesn’t like men, and Brian was warned that he probably wouldn’t approach him. Of course, Zeus heads straight for Brian for a pet. Then, he comes around to me, goes behind me, and jumps up on me! I FROZE!!!! That was a little too much for me, so I was thankful when the cheetah next door, Noah, had grabbed my backpack and we had to go wrestle it away from him! Noah is 5 months old, smaller than Zeus, but all kitten!! The long term volunteer got my backpack away (not a hole or scratch on it- a testament to my awesome pack!!). Then, we played with Noah. Noah decided my ankles were a chew toy and went straight for them. At this point, I was pretty sure these kittens had sensed my fear and were taking full advantage of it! They did the same things a house cat would do- chew on you. Except my entire ankle would fit in this cat’s mouth! Unnerving… We met another cat in Noah’s camp (which surrounds the home of the director). This is the oldest cat here, and the cat that started it all. Her name is Fiela and she’s 12 years old. She’s never had cubs of her own, but has a serious maternal instinct with Noah, so they live together. We (Brian) played with Noah for a while. Brian is so damn at ease around every animal. I swear.
Because Brian’s cheetah volunteering was basically turning into exactly what he does at home (cleaning poop, washing dishes), he was now recruited to go help build A-frame shade barriers in Xena’s camp.
While he did that (I do NOT do manual labor, much less pay to do it, thank you very much!), I went on a tour with about 8 tourists. Lize-Marie (super passionate about cheetahs and a permanent employee there), led the tour, and she’s just GREAT! I learned a lot about the animals- some that I did know, but a bunch that I didn’t.
1. Cheetahs are the fastest land animal- but they can only maintain their speed of 110kph (70 mph) for about 30 seconds. It takes them about 3 seconds from stop to full tilt!
2. Their front claws aren’t very sharp. They’re for traction when running. Only the dew claw (back claw) is sharp, and they use it to slice the legs of antelope. This means they can’t climb trees like leopards.
3. Cheetahs use their tails as a rudder when they are running- that’s why it’s so long. It allows them to change direction in an instant.
4. Of the big cats, cheetahs are the weakest predator. Other predators like lions, leopards, and hyenas often steal their catches. When only about 1/2 of their chases result in a kill, that can be a big problem, and lead to starvation of adult cheetahs (and the cubs that are depending on mom to hunt for them).
5. Cheetah cub mortality is about 90% (!!) in the wild. Another reason populations are declining so quickly. They just don’t reproduce quickly enough to sustain the current pressures. Part of the reason for high mortality is predation. The other part is weak genetics- again due to inbreeding from living in such small areas together.
6. Cheetahs hunt during the day (leopards at night). Those dark lines under their eyes are to help them see better in the sunlight.
7. They don’t roar. They purr. Really loud! 🙂
I learned a bunch more, but those are some of the cooler things. When the tour was over and Brian was done building, it was time for lunch. It was provided with our package, and was lamb, a variety of roasted veggies, and some of that African peppermint dessert like I had for Christmas. After that, Lize Marie asked if we wanted to go sit with the big cats with her. She’s a wealth of knowledge and super passionate, so I was in! We went and sat with Xena on her shady platform. Just hung out talking while this huge cat laid there and purred. Her coat was just so beautiful… Lize Marie told us about how she decided she wanted to work with cheetahs and worked hard to make her dream come true! Her love and respect for them is so apparent, and I’m really drawn to that. She’s really excited that they’ve finally found proper predator-free land for them to start reintroducing some cheetahs into the wild soon. None of the cats currently at the sanctuary will be released- they are too habituated to humans. But probably some of these cats grandchildren will be wild. Amazing. After Xena, we went to visit Abby. Same thing, just hung out talking on her platform, while she purred away.
An hour passed really quickly and it was time to head back to the main house. First, we were going to hang with Noah again. Honestly, I’m more comfortable with the adults. They’re more predictable. These big kittens were just a little too playful for me! We sat with Noah for a long time, and he basically ignored us. Typical cat behavior! Then, all of a sudden, he walks over and just gets in my lap! I was a little shocked, but he behaved himself. Then, he went over to Brian and jumped down on the ground. That’s when he promptly went after my ankles again! Oy, that little bugger!!
Then we went back into Zeus’ cage (the one who had jumped on me before). He really makes me nervous, because he’s bigger than Noah. We went and sat down in the grass with him and two of the other long term people. Remember, Zeus is the cat that doesn’t like men. In fact, it took one male volunteer FOUR WEEKS to be able to get in the enclosure with him, and Chris (the volunteer that we poop scooped with) still can’t go in. I think he’s been there a week or two. Well, Zeus walks right over to Dr. Doolittle Brian, lays down, and proceeds to lick him for about 2 minutes straight. Brian said it was like really rough sandpaper, and if his hands weren’t so tough it would have hurt! That damn cat just laid there letting Brian pet it like they were best friends! If Chris saw, I bet he would have been jealous! 🙂 I don’t like the looks Zeus gives me. And after he got up and started walking around, he gave me one of those looks. He promptly walked around behind me and gave me a nip on my shoulder blade. It kinda hurt- not like I’m going to die from it or anything, and frankly I’ve gotten worse from my cat at home. But something about big huge cheetah teeth behind you….shudder. I was ready to get the heck out of Zeus’ enclosure. Brian would have lived there.
All in all, we had a great day at Cheetah Experience Ashia! The grounds were gorgeous, the facility was state of the art, the animals were so well taken care of, the mission was admirable, the people were really nice, and the experience of being able to interact with these cats was just amazing!
Today we headed up the western coast to learn more about something very near and dear to my heart. Something that I seek out on all of my travels around the world- indigenous people. I wanted to learn about the original people of Southern Africa- the San people. So I booked a tour at the !Khwa Ttu educational center. The ! isn’t a punctuation mark- it’s a symbol that denotes a certain type of click that is used in their language. It was about a 1.5 hour drive through some pretty desolate land! Lots of sand dunes and fields. Soon we were turning off the main road onto a dirt road that led to !Khwa Ttu. The center itself is very nice and modern- there’s a little gift shop, a restaurant, and a mini-museum of sorts where there is a lot of written information about the Sans people. Apparently they are going to be opening a big museum soon. And this is where I have some devastating news. My SD card on my camera indicated that it was full about half way through our tour. I had forgotten to clear out all of the pictures and videos from our day with the cheetahs! I was outside, in the sun, and frantically trying to listen to the guide and delete pictures and videos as quickly as I could. When we got back to the house, I realized that I had accidentally deleted a lot of the pictures I took of the informational signs so I could read all of it. I’m so sick about this…gawd. Especially because there’s just so little information about these people online. That said, I’ll do my best to piece together our tour for you, but I’m not going to be able to share much of the history of the San people since that information was deleted. 🙁
We sat in the informational room and listened while our guide told us what to expect. There was a male guide from one tribe of San people, and a female guide from a different tribe. The San people are designated based on their language type, but not all tribes speak the same language. He taught us about the 5 different clicks that are in the language and how to do them. It was so interesting! The San come from many countries in Southern Africa, and have been moved around due to European settlers and wars for centuries. They were originally hunters and gatherers, moving from place to place based on the seasons to follow the animals they hunted and to find land for their cattle to graze on. They had no concept of land ownership. Of course, the Europeans did, and as they claimed all of the land that was originally San land, there was no place left for the San people to continue their culture. As with most indigenous people, they were completely marginalized, forced to abandon their ways and assimilate into white culture, and given little to no opportunities. Same story, different indigenous peoples. Sickening.
We boarded a tractor driven covered wagon sort of thing for a ride across the farm, where a typical Sans village had been set up. The male guide drove us down, and we took a short hike through the bush. He taught us about different antelope tracks- Elan (the biggest), Springbok, Bontebok, and two others I can’t remember because the video was deleted. 🙁 How his people would track and hunt the animals through the bush. We saw poisonous plants that were used to coat the spearheads. Soon we met up with the lady guide. There were a few little huts in a circle, which would be typical. The fire would be in the middle of the village, and only men were allowed to start fires. In fact, to get married, men had to prove they could start a fire and hunt. Their first kill they were not allowed to eat- it was for the village.
The female guide explained in her native language (not many people speak it anymore) many of the items the Sans used. The male guide would then translate for us. Here are some of the items we learned about.
We then jumped back in the tractor thingy and took a ride around the farm to see the animals. And I got to see TWO new ones!! Zebras and Springbok!! Also saw some ostriches, and my tortoise eye saw another tortoise as well.
After the tour was over, we tried some AMAZING Rooibos tea flavored with lemon, mint, and honey. I could have drank a gallon! We then wandered out into the herbal garden for a look at the plants, had our picnic lunch, and hit the open road to go to the West Coast Fossil Park! It was just a short drive further north from !Khwa Ttu, and looked really interesting. Google maps showed that it was north of Vredenberg, but we saw a sign that pointed down another road. Followed the sign and that is exactly where it was. DON’T TRUST GOOGLE MAPS ON THIS ONE!! However, the gate was closed. We pulled up and the guard said the park had closed at 1pm. It was 1:20. Ugh. My fault for assuming such a thing would naturally be open all day on a Saturday. Note to self: ALWAYS check the hours- don’t assume!
We chose to go back along a different route, through the West Coast National Park. And on the road behind a fence, we saw zebras and a brand new antelope!! Research says it’s a gemsbok, and the horns were CRAZY long! There’s something not nearly as exciting when you see something behind a fence, but it was still really cool.
We drove into the town of Langebaan. Super pretty little town overlooking a SPECTACULAR bay!! The blue of the water was unreal! Our original goal was to make it back to Hout Bay by 3pm to go to the market and visit Xoma Aob (my Khoi Khoi friend) to arrange a tour. It was going to be a tight schedule. We passed by a church that had a “craft fair” sign outside. Looked at each other and said what the heck and stopped. Everyone here was speaking what I’m pretty sure was Dutch. It ended up being kind of a froo-froo craft market- the kind little old church ladies would attend and sell things at. But we did manage to find a couple of trinkets and some Kudu and Springbok biltong, which is basically South African jerky. Headed back down the road and entered the West Coast National Park. 80 rand per person ($6.50US), which wasn’t too bad of a price. When I saw it on the map, I didn’t really realize what it was exactly. I just thought it was a road along the coast. We pulled into a little area that had a “bird hide” you could hike to. The hike was basically down a boardwalk that was across the marshlands. It was a really cool little building with a slit all the way around so you could sit on the benches inside and birdwatch. It was actually pretty fun!! And I saw flamingos IN THE WILD!!!!! That was a crazy cool experience!! On the way back up the boardwalk, something in the bushes caught my eye. It was a mouse like thing!! I had to be very still and very stalkerish because he was really skittish. He was behind a mass of branches and I couldn’t get focused on him. Then, all of a sudden, he popped out, posed, and looked straight at me. ADORBS!!!!!!!!! Oh, soooo cute!! My favorite shot of the day.
We get back in the car and decide to head down some random dirt road. I screamed “STOP!!!!! BACK UP!!!!!!” Brian shouted “Tortoise?!” I said, “NO! BETTER!” (cuz I’ve already seen a tortoise). He says “Snake?!”. I say no. I jump out of the car with Brian behind me, and there he was. A huge dung beetle IN THE WILD!! It was FAST, and it was impossible for me to get focused on it. I told Brian to pick it up. He asked, “Does it bite?”. This is a man who has no qualms about hanging out with cheetahs who have massive teeth and claws… Here’s a good place for me to clarify my earlier remark: I was pretty sure it was a dung beetle. And dung beetles don’t bite. So I told him of course not, and added my typical smart mouth comment of “Let your girlfriend pick up the dung beetle so you can hold your purse.” He picked it up. 🙂 It was wiggly and fast as hell. When he went to put it down, he kind of dropped it and it fell on its back. It froze. I flipped him back over and gave him a little nudge. Nothing. Holy fuck, we killed the dung beetle!!! This thing had been frantically running and thwarting us at every turn. Now he was still. I was about to puke from the guilt. We moved to walk back to the car, and the beetle took off running. WHEW! That was the longest 30 seconds of my life! Dung beetles playing possum. Who knew?? Got back to the car and I was joking around with Brian about him asking me if it would bite. He said he didn’t know anything about dung beetles!! So I admitted that neither did I, I wasn’t even sure it WAS a dung beetle, and for all I really knew it could be some wackadoodle venomous African spitting beetle. Fortunately, my instincts were correct and research confirmed dung beetle. 🙂
We drove along the practically empty roads. I love seeing exotic wildlife signs! We stopped at a place called Atlantic Overlook that wasn’t anywhere near as pretty as Langebaan Lagoon. Brian laid down on a picnic table to rest his back from driving and take a quick cat nap. I had to pee, which was a huge issue because there was no bathroom anywhere. The idea of squatting on a cobra almost made me just pee in the middle of the road, and I contemplated the situation for several minutes, but modesty won out. Yes, I’m blogging about pissing in the weeds in the middle of the western coast of South Africa. Life experiences, baby!! I’m happy to report no snake bites on my tushy. Guys have it so easy. Sigh. We weren’t back on the road for 3 minutes when I screamed “STOP!!!!” again. Fortunately no one was behind us and Brian could back up. My tortoise eye spotted another tortoise on the side of the road. What a little beauty! And at least he sat still and posed instead of trying to run away like the tortoise at Cape Point.
I won’t lie- I was disappointed when the fossil park was closed. But the unexpected beauty and fun of Langebaan Bay and West Coast National Park made it all better!! Being able to switch gears and overcome those little bumps and disappointments in order to keep the adventure going is what traveling is all about.
Today was going to be kind of a “down” day. Meaning not driving so much! The plan was to head up the cable car to Table Mountain, then come down to the Hout Bay market and go see Xoma Aob to arrange a tour. Nice, easy day in Cape Town. I woke up at 5:30am and worked while Brian slept, and slept, and slept….I thought he was dead! He’s usually up at the crack of dawn, and heaven forbid I move an inch or he’s completely awake. I let him sleep. Poor guy. The shutters were closed, but I listened- NO WIND!! That’s important because the cable car wouldn’t be running if it was windy. Actually, since Brian got here there’s been practically no wind. Nothing like the insanity I experienced the first couple of weeks. Finally he woke up at 7:30 (half the day is gone!!). I opened the shutters and saw this:
Hmmmmmm. The supposedly spectacular views from Table Mountain wouldn’t be quite so spectacular today… No worries, we’ll just go downtown to the Pan African market, eat at Mama Africa’s (a restaurant the housesitters I met up with suggested), maybe hit the slave museum, then off to Hout Bay. Still a full day. I jumped online to see when everything opened (no more fossil park scenarios for me!). Pan African market: CLOSED ON SUNDAY. Mama Africa’s: CLOSED ON SUNDAY. Slave Museum: CLOSED ON SUNDAY. Remember yesterday when I said little bumps and disappointments are a part of the journey? Yeah, well, SCREW THAT!!!!! I started going in to full blown freak out mode. What in the hell were we going to do? Cape Town had a huge “CLOSED” sign stamped on it. We couldn’t change plans and go to the other 2 adventures outside of Cape Town we had planned, because they had already been booked and paid for for other days. The thought of wasting an entire day was freaking me out. I jumped online and started searching. The only things open were things I had already done or had no interest in doing. Brian cooked his breakfast and then came over and calmly got on his computer. Everything was either too far away or closed. I found something called a township tour by Siviwe Tours– and they had 5 stars. The townships are those “shanty town” looking areas that I saw the day I flew in. It sounded really interesting! I went online to book. No availability. UGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHH! Maybe I could plead my case, or maybe someone had cancelled due to the rain and we could take their spot. I called. No answer. I called back a little bit later. No answer. It’s after 9am at this point, and freak out mode is bleeding into panic mode. By 9am we are usually out the door and well on our way to (or have already started) the day’s adventure! I emailed. I kept searching and searching. Brian was searching. Nothing. And then, a ding- new email! It was Siviwe Tours!!! They had space available at noon or 2!! I said we’d take the noon tour!! WOO-HOO! Then….cash only. We didn’t have enough cash (I haven’t changed money once since I’ve been here because everywhere takes a credit card). We started searching for every money changer in town. And guess what? DEEE-NIED. Every where was closed. I emailed back sheepishly about the situation, and they agreed to let us pay in US dollars. (Can you imagine going somewhere in the US and asking to pay in South African rand?? See previous DEE-NIED notation…)
The tour started at noon, and we got there at about 11. We drove into the neighborhood and eeeeeep…it was….interesting. And by interesting I mean really run down and scary (as defined by our prejudices and preconceptions) to the point that we decided we would go find a mall and get an umbrella rather than sit in the parking lot in broad daylight on a Sunday morning. There was a mall about a mile away, and we were the only white people in it. And we were FINE. And the car was FINE. And we got an umbrella at Woolworth’s and were FINE. I hate that we’re taught how people who are “different” (are they, really?) are something to be feared…
Went back to the meeting place and a young black man walked up to our car. I rolled down the window- part way. He said “Hi, you must be…” and hesitated. Brian offered up “Mary and Brian.” The young man said, “Ah, yes, Mary. Wait right here, we’re waiting on two more people.” I rolled up the window and told Brian you NEVER give them your name- make them say your name so you know it’s really the tour guide. Ok, that is probably wise information, but honestly, would I have done that if there was a meeting point outside of the cheetah sanctuary or the San center? I have to admit I wouldn’t. Sigh. Honestly though, this neighborhood was the epitome of being somewhere where my gut said “GET OUT!”. The neighborhood (Township) is Langa.
Another car of slow moving, deer-in-the-headlights, hesitant-to-turn-in white people arrived. Our guide, Loyiso, greeted them and then got in our car to drive to where we would park- just outside of the community center. The couple was from Toronto, and nice enough. I had seriously considered booking a private tour for 4 times the cost because that’s how much I hate tour groups. But as I suspected, the rain kept pretty much everyone away. Four was a good number. Before we start the tour, let me give you a little history of this place so you understand what it is and what it represents. The township is named after King Langalibalele- an activist for black rights who was one of the first people to be imprisoned on Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was held). Langa means “sun” in the native Xhosa language- which is still widely spoken in Langa. Xhosa are indigenous people of the East Cape, and their language also has the clicks that I learned about from the San center. In the 1920’s, the whites wanted the blacks out of their areas. Far away so they didn’t have to live near them, but close enough that they could use them for workers. A law was put into place to create special areas for the blacks. Langa was the first planned township created for the purpose of containing blacks to specific areas where they were forced to live. When you have all of what you consider to be “problem people” in one location, it’s easier to control them. In fact, control was so strict that family and friends couldn’t even come and visit the people who were in Langa. At one point, there were areas where only men could live- they had to leave their wives and children behind. Certain traditions, such as the brewing of the cultural beer that was so important in many rituals, was banned. Over the years, tensions both within the community (different tribes) and with the government (especially over housing and living conditions) have ebbed and flowed. It is now a fairly strong and cohesive community of people who are proud, but are still waiting to receive basic human rights from the government.
We started our tour at the Guga S’thebe community center, which is the hub of culture within the community. It offers several educational programs, classes such as dance and art, and provides a place for artists to work and sell their crafts. I was immediately fascinated with an artist named Odom and his sand art work. It was GORGEOUS!! Odom dropped out of school very early, but has been working at his craft for the last 18 years. It is a form of art that I know my students are just going to LOVE!! Brian and I like to support individuals as much as we can- I really don’t like buying mass produced trinkets. We bought a sand art piece that depicted the Langa township from Odom (definitely the most expensive souvenir I’ve ever purchased, but I felt good about it), and a gourd rattle that was made by some ladies in another booth. Odom also let me video his entire technique so I can teach it to my students! We also saw an area where they do pottery.
Now it was time to go to the houses. And when I say houses, this is an extremely loose term in many circumstances. I will say, I didn’t always feel comfortable taking pictures in certain areas, so I didn’t. I know that tourism is important to Langa and that the community supports, embraces, and welcomes it, but I didn’t want to feel like I was participating in some kind of “human zoo”. These people are proud and I wanted to be as respectful as I could under the circumstances. There are different levels of housing in Langa, from abysmal to quite nice. Houses that have numbers on their doors are on the government list to receive better housing when it is built. Don’t hold your breath for that to happen, though. People have been waiting 10+ years. First, we went into a dorm that used to be a “mens only” dorm, meaning they had to be separated from their wives and children. There were a few children playing soccer in the entrance hall. Loyiso explained how many families lived in this dorm- at least 8. They shared one bathroom that was outside, which consisted of a single toilet. There is no shower, bathing is done in plastic tubs. The stove and sink are communal as well, and there are no refrigerators. The individual “apartments” consist of a single room. Families who have too many members, children sleep on the floor. If there are too many to fit in the room, they sleep in the entrance hall on filthy mattresses. There is a strict curfew of between 9-10 o’clock. If you are not inside by then, you are locked out. This way, you don’t disturb the people who have to sleep on the entry way floor. I thought this was horrible living conditions. I was soon proved wrong.
In the courtyard area of this dorm were some shipping containers. We learned that these weren’t for storage. They were homes. And each container wasn’t one home, it was TWO homes. The containers were split in half, each side with a family. Electricity was run haphazardly from structures that had electricity (this was the case in many of the areas). These containers had been brought in as temporary housing- years and years ago. We were invited to go inside of one of the “homes”. Honestly, I felt really bad. There were 2 children who had been sitting on the floor, girls about 8 and 10, who had to go outside so we could come in. The room was maybe 10 x 10, no bigger than a normal sized bedroom and this was the entire house. No running water. No kitchen. They shared the outdoor toilet and kitchen with the dorm. There was one bed, with an African woman and a newborn baby laying on it. Loyiso explained how they receive money from the government for each child, and some work and need that money to feed their children because wages aren’t high enough. Some people have children so they don’t have to work. God. How can I judge? I can’t. How do any of us know what we would do in that situation? It’s easy for us to sit in our fine homes with a refrigerator full of food, good jobs, spending cash, hell- our own TOILET AND SHOWER, and judge how these people should live and behave. Fuck us all for that. I couldn’t bear to take a picture- just too human zoo for me. I felt bad enough being in her home with my camera around my neck, knowing it was worth more than she probably sees in a year. I have never been face to face with such abject poverty.
We wandered down more streets and came to a large building called the Old Beer Hall. Originally, there was a ban on the people being able to brew their traditional beer. Then, in the 1940’s, the government allowed it, but only in the beer hall. Now, it’s converted into- you guessed it- temporary housing. Multiple families live in each of the rooms. They all share an outdoor toilet. No showers, just plastic basins in their rooms. Trash isn’t always collected when it should be, which causes a massive problem with rats.
We now went down a makeshift tiny alley in between ramshackle, make shift “accommodations”. I was thinking how there was no way in hell I would ever been in this place if it wasn’t for a tour guide. Because instinctively, you recognize that it is not a place you belong. Is it from fear? Is it from privilege? Is it from not wanting to know this exists? Is it all of these? I don’t know. How do you sort out instinct? There was a church, painted blue and white, and falling apart. We continued down dirty, narrow alleys, almost suffocated by the poverty and injustice on all sides. I can’t stand it. It’s not right. We went into another dwelling- one of these “shanty shack” homes- pieced together from whatever materials could be found. Inside were about 8 children under the age of 4. This was the “orphanage”. A woman was taking in children whose parents could no longer care for them for a multitude of reasons. There were 4 rooms. A “living room” kind of area, a storage type area, a bedroom filled with bunk after bunk that the children slept 2 per bed in, and a kitchen area. Again, no bathroom. I’m not even sure where their toilet was (I think they may have had to share with the Beer Hall toilet that was about ½ a block away). One plastic basin to wash the kids in. How can these children ever even have a chance? How? It’s not possible. They’re born with 3 strikes against them- no parental guidance, no chance of a good education, and growing up in a culture that tends to perpetuate itself.
We made our way to another shanty. Inside of this one was an older man named Cederick. His nickname is Shooter because he’s short. 🙂 He lived in the Beer Hall, then built a house on this spot 10 years ago. There was a fire that ran through the shanties and destroyed his and many others (I can’t even imagine having practically nothing, losing that, then starting over), and he had to rebuild. He used pieces of the township that was torn down when the freeway that runs next to Langa was put in. He told us stories of his life, how Nelson Mandela gave rights to the people, and how he is still waiting for the government to provide him a real house- that that is his dream. I videoed 17 minutes of him talking, it was that interesting. He works with the local school, teaching children skills. He showed us some Snap Circuit boards he had so he could teach the children how to do electrical work. A woman in the States donated 30 sets. I got the feeling that he’s been a fighter his whole life and refuses to give up. I also got the feeling that he’ll never get a home. I guess when all you have is hope, you hold on to it no matter the circumstances. He told us how Mos Def and DJ Skrillex had both visited his home. One piece of their damn jewelry would buy him a house…
We walked a few more shanties down into a room that had about 7 men in it. This is where they would come to drink the traditional beer. It’s only brewed by women and they refuse to give any man the recipe. They brew it, and they sell it. It only has .01% alcohol, so you’d have to drink buckets of it to get a buzz. And that’s exactly how it was served to us- in a communal bucket that was passed around and everyone drank from it. It tasted a little fermenty, not much like real beer. It was very white and frothy.
We exited this little section of severely run down shanties, and walked down kind of a main road. There were women there preparing a sheep brain soup of sorts. They were smoking sheep heads, then they would prepare them, make the soup, and sell it. Just like with the beer- the women are the primary entrepreneurs in the community. Loyiso told us more than once that the men are lazy… Lazy, or just beaten down? Who am I to judge?
Now we entered kind of a “middle class” area. Large apartment buildings, very similar to what we might see in urban housing projects in the states. He said some people pay rent here, some people stay for free. They have private bathrooms in their apartments. How did they manage to get these upgrades? No one knows for sure, really. Maybe they knew the right person. Maybe they gave money to the right person. Maybe they were next up on the government list. I would think that if you were in the shanties, dorms, or shipping containers with your family, the why and how wouldn’t matter near as much as the fact that you finally had a roof over your head. I know that I would do whatever it took if I was in that situation.
We now walked through another compound of buildings, very similar to the dorms we saw earlier. These were built in 1941 and probably hadn’t seen many if any renovations since then. There were children playing in the courtyard under lines and lines of clothes hung out to dry. These would probably be a step up from the dorms, but not by much. Everywhere you looked in this community was poverty. Children. Conditions you couldn’t even imagine animals living in. Things that are impossible to reconcile in my mind.
Now it was time to visit the “upper class” of Langa, or as Loyiso called it, “Beverly Hills”! Many people of Langa who had gotten an education- doctors, attorneys, accountants, etc… didn’t leave the community. They stayed. They built nice homes. They wanted to show everyone (especially the children) that with hard work, education, and focus, you can change your circumstances. And the thing that I immediately noticed was the lack of bars on the windows. No barbed wire circles trimming the tops of fences. No alarm company signs. No security cameras. No vicious dogs. No barriers between them and the gut wrenching poverty just meters away. Why? Weren’t these home ripe for the picking? Wasn’t this an extravagant display of wealth (even though it was completely modest by our standards) taunting people with nothing? Weren’t these homes a crime of opportunity waiting to happen? No. Because the people of Langa are community. They are strong. They support each other. If a crime does happen in the community, the community takes care of it by beating the hell out of the offender. Ofttimes, the criminal will turn themselves into the police before the community can catch them and institute Langa justice! It’s amazing if you think about it.
After 2 hours, our time in Langa had ended. I never once felt unsafe (except on that initial drive in!). But I did feel uncomfortable. Good. I should feel that way. There are only 3 things that separate me from these people. Three -tions (shuns?). Coloration, education, location. My white skin affords me so much opportunity. Opportunity that even with the same level of education and drive I would not have if my skin was dark. I know and recognize this. I have always valued the importance of education, even though I did struggle with poverty conditions as a child. An education was available to me, and I took full advantage of it. And living in the United States, I automatically have rights, freedoms, and opportunities that these people could never even comprehend. Being “given” a right and having the ability to “exercise” that right are two completely different things.
After Langa, we headed to Hout Bay. First, to the market, where Brian bought me a coral shaped ring that I had seen last weekend. We went and talked to Xoma Abo and scheduled a tour for Wednesday. We had lunch at Mariner’s Wharf where a man from the Congo waited on us. He’s going to Maryland in March to live with his brother. He wants to be a ship mechanic. I hope his dreams come true.
We had a looooong adventure today! Our goal was to drive to Cape Alguhas- the southern most tip of Africa. What is there to do there? Take a picture with the sign and turn around after an almost 5 hour drive. 🙂 So as always, we planned extra little excursions around our main one.
We left Simon’s Town early and drove along the beach to Somerset West. There, we continued along the beach, and the views were outstanding! In one area, it was miles and miles of nothing but fantastic shoreline on one side and massive mountains on the other. One of the most scenic drives we’ve ever been on! (Cuba wins out because it was a straight up adventure- the infrastructure is too good here! 🙂 ).
We made our way to the sleepy little town of Betty’s Bay. Seriously, there were only 3 things going on here- baboons, a penguin colony, and a bunch of rock hyraxes!! No restaurants or stores or anything. Just a lot of houses on a beautiful little bay kind of in the middle of no where…
At the next town, we saw a biltong shop and decided to stop in to see if they had anything more exotic than the springbok and kudu we had bought a few days ago (and have yet to try!). They only had beef, but they had some big slabs of it hanging up so we said we’d take a slab of it. They cut it into almost paper thin pieces. It didn’t have much seasoning, but it was good. Quite greasy though! It’s “greased” its way through the bag in just a couple of days!
Now rarely do we take the route Google suggests. I look at the map, see where we’re trying to go, and if there’s a more interesting looking road, we take it. We’ve ended up on roads that aren’t even on google maps by doing this…and that’s what we call an adventure! I wanted to stick as close to the coastline as we could, even though google maps insisted that we go inland a bit and around. We soon figured out why google maps was so insistent, after we ended up on a 12 mile long dirt road in the middle of a bunch of farms! But, had we not done this, we would have never seen a farmer with his 3 dogs herding sheep. 🙂
We finally hit another bit of pavement, and then….another 12 miles of dirt road!! Soon the farmlands turned into areas that had a sign indicating that this land was Alguhas National Sanctuary. Brian spotted a MASSIVE grey bird waaaaaaaaaay out in the middle of a field. We couldn’t see much with our bare eye. It literally looked like some kind of an oddly colored ostrich it was so big. When I zoomed in with the camera, I saw that it was actually some kind of heron/egret looking bird!
Headed back down the dirt road and we simultaneously inhaled, gasped, and sucked every ounce of oxygen out of that car. We had run over a tortoise!! Luckily, Brian saw it at the last second and straddled it. We backed up, and the poor little guy was completely closed up in his shell (who can blame him?!). We took him out of the middle of the road, put him in the weeds on the side he was heading toward, and deemed ourselves “Heroes of Africa”. We’re waiting for a knock at the door with our prize… 😉 And as always, when we see a tortoise, there’s a sign not too far off. And there it was, when we hit pavement again. Completely different from the normal signs we see, and in three languages. I’m assuming one is Dutch and one is Africaans, but I have no idea.
Soon we were hugging the coastline again and on our way to Cape Alguhas! Finally- the southern most tip of Africa and the place where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean. Got there, parked, walked up a little boardwalk, stood in a short line to get our picture taken. And….yeah. That was it. Hey, if I’m ever on Jeopardy and they ask where the southern most tip of Africa is, I can say “Cape Alguhas, South Africa!”.
Now it was time to drive back about an hour and a half to go to Panthera Africa- a big cat sanctuary. This sanctuary is a lot different than Cheetah Experience Ashia. They do not allow any breeding, as to insure not to increase the population of these cats in captivity (Ashia is breeding for a good reason- to increase genetic diversity). They do not allow any interaction with the animals- not even the workers go into the enclosures. And after you see just how big these cats are, who the hell would want to go in there anyway?! All of these cats are rescues from mainly two sources- individuals who had them as pets and breeding farms. Breeding farms for big cats are akin to puppy mills for dogs. The females are bred over and over and over again by removing their cubs from them within 2 weeks of birth. This causes the female to go into heat very quickly, vs the 2 years it would take if she was raising cubs. It also is a tremendous strain on their bodies, as they are not adapted to be bred like that. Those that are too old to breed anymore are often sold into the canned hunting trade- where someone purchases the cat, it is put into an enclosure, and the purchaser shoots it. If no one buys the animal, it is killed and its bones are ground up into powder for the Asian “traditional medicine” (read: traditional bullshit) market. Oy, humans. We suck. The kittens generally are sent out to be hand reared by volunteers who are told that the mothers rejected them and they’ll die without human intervention. This cats are then completely adapted to humans and are used in petting “zoo” type areas, until they get too old. Then, they go to a breeder farm. Two ladies were serving as volunteers, thinking they were helping these cats. When they found out the truth, they started a rescue facility, and have rescued back some of the kittens they had helped to raise. These animals are brought here to live out their lives as naturally as possible, being taken care of as well as possible. I was quite impressed by the facility and saddened by the true horror stories some of these cats have lived through.
After we left Panthera, it was paved roads all the way home (for 3 hours!!). We had done 40 miles of dirt roads total, and our fillings and internal organs were feeling it! We stopped for gas and a healthy snack- hey, apple tea and carrot cupcake = one serving of fruit and one of vegetable, right? 🙂 After the long drive, we were both dead tired, but never too tired for porcupines!! We had made it back just in time for porcupine o’clock, and were thrilled to FINALLY get pictures of both Behati and Adam!! Happy, wild porcupines.
What’s the first thing you think about when you think about adventures in Africa? SAFARI! Now, there are no true safari experiences near Cape Town. The next best thing are private game reserves, which are basically huge swaths of land that private owners put animals on and charge tourists to jump on a safari truck and go driving the property in search of “The Big 5” (which you’re never going to see at one of these places). What are the Big 5? Elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos, and buffalo. Why are they called the Big 5? You might think because they’re the biggest animals in Africa. Nope. There are animals bigger than leopards, for sure. You might think because they are the most dangerous to people. Nope- Hippos (after mosquitoes!!) are the most dangerous animal in Africa. It’s because these are the most dangerous to hunt. I really don’t like that designation anymore… There were 3 of these experiences near (within a 2 ish hour drive) of Cape Town. Fairy Glen, Aquila, and Iverdoorn. I seriously couldn’t decide which one I wanted to do, so I decided to do two of them, based on location- Fairy Glen and Aquila.
When I’m talking about private land owners, we’re talking about a LOT of land- in Fairy Glen’s case, about 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres). We drove the hour and a halfish from Simon’s Town and arrived about 7:45am. Our package included welcome drinks, breakfast, 2-3 hour game drive, and lunch for 1590 rand ($128 US)- which is kinda steep. But I’m so into the animals, and I knew this would be my only chance to “safari” in Africa, so what the heck. Sometimes, you need to splurge! We arrived, signed our lives away, got our choice of orange juice or tea for our welcome drink, then had breakfast. It was buffet style with a decent selection- kind of bland, but edible. Not being ones that can sit still for 30 seconds to digest food, we headed outside to walk around and see what we could see. I found a cool little sunbird in a tree, and was super excited about that!
We all met outside at about 9am. We were to be split into two groups- one group for those who were staying on the Fairy Glen property (they have little cabins) and one for visitors. The guy making the announcements was pretty cool and seemed very personable and knowledgeable (and easy on the eyes, and a South African accent to boot!), so I was happy to learn that he was leading our group! He said the first thing we were going to do was feed and pet the elephants. Excited noises ran through our group. Huh? I’m not here to feed and pet elephants, I’m here to see them roaming “freeish” on 25,000 acres, doing their elephant thang! Well, apparently a large part of the reserve is being turned into vineyards, and the elephants are very destructive. So until they can be relocated further back at the foot of the mountains, they’re in pen. Sigh. Strike 1. Ok, I can get over this. Still a shot to bat it out of the park with me, Fairy Glen!! I really didn’t feel right about just feeding and petting them for the sake of doing it, so I refrained. But I will say this- compared to the Asian elephants I worked with at the sanctuary in Malaysia, these elephants are MASSIVE! Like twice the size of some of the Asians I worked with and I thought they were big! It was stunning and awe inspiring just how huge they were. I couldn’t begrudge Brian the chance to feed one though, since he didn’t get to go the elephant sanctuary with me.
After the elephant feeding, we all piled into one of those safari style jeep kind of things you see on TV. WOO-HOO!! Let’s go find some animals and get some great photos!! I made sure we got a seat right behind the driver/guide, Dennis, so I wouldn’t miss a word! Plus, like I mentioned, he was cute and it’s just fun as hell to get Brian all worked up about it! (evil girlfriend). And, of course, if you’re in the front you don’t have to see all of the tourists you’re actually on this trip with. Dennis gives us a bit of an introduction, during which he states he used to be a professional hunter. Ugh. Seriously? Look, we all have our own lines when it comes to being around animals- both those in captivity and those in the wild. And I get that some people hunt, and I don’t begrudge it. But trophy hunting (when not necessary to cull populations) crosses my line. Waaaaaaaaaaay over my line. Brian said he could see my face fall and completely change with that revelation (and I know he was secretly happy because he knew this guy just hit my shit list, cute or not!). Strike 2, Fairy Glen. Still a chance to hit it out of the park though! Let’s do this! We headed up and away from all of the buildings and construction on the reserve, into the “wild”.
We went into the “wild”, made kind of a loop, then headed back down to the busy and populated area of the reserve. Dennis pointed out zebras and springbok (yes, we saw them on the way in). It was hard getting shots that didn’t have signs of civilization in them… Then, Dennis gets out of the car and shows us a rhino midden- they poop in very specific places instead of just whereever like other animals. He broke some open and showed us how full of undigested grass it was- because the rhinos don’t digest much of what they eat. Fairly inefficient. He then pulled out a piece of grass from the dung and put it in his mouth, toothpick/redneck style- much to the whispers of delight and disgust from the tourists. I was neither delighted nor disgusted. I saw it for what it was- an obvious ploy to tourists. “Oh my goodness- did you see that man put something that came from animal poop in his MOUTH?!!”. Sigh. We went a little further, and Dennis gets out again. He gives this long speech about the games they used to play in South Africa, and one was spitting shit. Yes, spitting shit. He picked up some smallish oval shaped poop (probably from some kind of antelope), puts it in his mouth, and chews it like gum- all while explaining how you had to chew it up and make it really sloppy so it would go further. The ooos and aahs and gasps of delight/disgust from the masses behind me was grosser than what Dennis was doing. He then takes a couple of steps and spits it out as far as he could. Guess what? I’m not impressed. Not in the least. It seemed like some kind of ego/give the tourists something to tell their friends ploy. It seemed contrived and gratuitous- neither of which I tolerate very well. I’m here and paying a lot to see ANIMALS, not watch some guide chew up shit. Foul ball, Fairy Glen…foul ball.
We drive a little further and there are some cape buffalo. The same ones, I think, that had been standing by the road when we drove in. Dennis goes on to explain just how dangerous these animals are. How they are demons. Then, he would open the driver door to try to get a reaction from the dominant male. I got the feeling that he was trying to strike some fear into the hearts of the masses and make it more exciting (jokes had already been made about how many people would make it back from the tour. Sigh.). Just SEEING these beautiful and massive animals was exciting enough! If you aren’t going to give me hard facts and teach me something, shut up and let me take pictures. Sheesh. While I’m sure these animals are quite daunting in the wild, these guys just wanted us to leave them alone. I couldn’t blame them.
So at this point, Fairy Glen has 2 strikes and a foul. We pull up to a lion enclosure (lions were literally the one animal we didn’t see either as we were driving in to the lodge or driving out of it). There were 2 females and a beautiful male. Dennis said he had hand raised the male. It made me think back to those breeder farms I had learned about yesterday at Panthera. The male was right up against the fence in a pretty awkward position to get good pictures. If I hadn’t have had the little display screen on my camera that allows me to see what the camera sees without having my eye to the eyepiece, I never would have gotten a shot. Can’t have that, apparently. Because Dennis goes back to the truck, gets a bottle of water, and proceeds to dump it on the male, agitating him to make scary faces and move. I was just in shock. Literally, in shock. I couldn’t believe what I had just seen. I just wanted to leave the entire reserve at this point, but Dennis tells us to follow him around the fence. The lions had all moved there to a) get the hell away from us and b) get into some shade. We all get over there, I’m still trying to process what I had just seen, and Dennis gets a stick and starts prodding the male with it. ENOUGH. I told Brian I wasn’t going to stand there. I stormed off and Brian followed. We went back to where the jeep was and I was crying angry tears, with poor Brian trying to console me. I’m here to witness these animals in some assemblance of the wild. I’m not here to watch a guide poke, prod, and agitate them for the thrill of it! Strike fucking three, Fairy Glen. You are OUT (of line). And if I could have walked back to my car from here I would have been gone. But we were in the reserve area and it wasn’t safe. That experience put me in a funk for the rest of the trip. I dwell on those kinds of things. Maybe too much. But at this point, I was so over Dennis and Fairy Glen, nothing could have changed my mind.
And things didn’t get much better. Dennis referred to the ostriches we came across as “stupid animals”. Ok, I fully understand that ostriches aren’t the brightest bulb on the bird tree, but to call them stupid…it hit me the wrong way. There are better ways of saying it without being so degrading and egotistical. Stupid compared to what? Ostriches survive into old age in the wild without a gun. Could you do that, Captain Superior Dennis? Doubtful. So really, who’s stupid? Stupid is relative. And after what I had just seen Dennis do to that lion, I’d put my odds on an ostrich’s brainpower over Dennis’ at this point. Next up, wildebeest! And guess what? According to Dennis, they too are “stupid”. If this guy didn’t shut up soon, I was going to get ugly. I could feel the words boiling up inside of me. I thought they were beautiful, and they perfectly serve their niche in the ecosystem. Dennis couldn’t even serve his niche as a kind and compassionate tour guide. So again, who’s stupid?
Now, for the only really “wild” thing I saw at Fairy Glen. Two male springboks were fighting! It was really interesting to watch this behavior play out in front of me. Well, kinda far away from me and behind some bushes, but I could see it happening! It was a very “Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom” moment for the little girl inside of me! We watched them for quite a while, then moved on.
This next story is where Dennis almost redeemed himself, but not quite. It’s the story of Lady and Higgins- the male and female rhino that live on the reserve. Someone had snuck on to the reserve several years back and poached their horns!! They were found near death the next morning. Rhino poaching is a SERIOUS issue. More than 1 is killed per day in Africa, with their horns going to the Asian “traditional medicine” (I said it yesterday and I’ll say it again- traditional BULLSHIT) market. Of course, Asians who have weak minds, weak hearts, and weak dicks think rhino horns will fix at least one of those problems. Fuck. Seriously, how stupid can someone be in 2017?? Compared to an ostrich or a wildebeest, those Asians are far, far stupider… The story of Lady and Higgins was horrible, and you could see that Dennis was affected by it (nice to know there’s a heart under all that bravado). They almost died, but were nursed back to health. The owner of Fairy Glen even wrote a book about it. So now, not only are these the southern most rhinos in Africa, they are the only ones to have survived a poaching attack. They lost their horns, but not their lives…
Next we went to another lion enclosure, but these one we could drive into. There was a male and 2 females. Dennis kept talking about how aggressive they are and how one of the females is such a “bitch”. Stupid. Bitch. Huh, funny cuz those are the exact two terms I had been thinking about for Dennis. (Can you tell I’m just over this guy?? Don’t torment and don’t insult animals around me.) We drove fairly close to them and looked at them for a bit. Dried skeletons of cattle carcasses and such were scattered everywhere. There wasn’t a lot of shade in this enclosure and nothing high for them to get up on. Sigh. And Dennis did his same “open the driver door to agitate the animal” schtick he had done with the buffalo.
We drove around some more, looking for the Elans- the largest antelope in Africa. We had seen them when we pulled into the reserve. They are stunning! And it’s that big flap of skin under their neck that the San people used to make flip flops with!
It was time to head back, and I was glad. I had a cloud over me ever since the incident at the first lion enclosure, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to leave this place. We went in, got our buffet lunch (again, a good variety, but really quite bland). We sat upstairs by ourselves. Dennis walked up and handed me the book the owner had written about Lady and Higgins (the rhinos). I thanked him. I don’t know if they give that book away to everyone on the tour (if so, that would be a lot of books to hand out every month!), or if he knew I was displeased with this whole experience and was trying to make it up to me (I know it was all over my face- I don’t hide things too well). Either way, I’ll look forward to reading it. It was now time to drive a little over an hour to Aquila, and I was dreading it totally. Had it not been prepaid, I would have skipped it and gone back to the house. In fact, the idea that this place was only 995 rand ($80 US) was scaring me. Cheaper (and by a lot) than Fairy Glen probably meant the experience would be a lot worse…
The drive was beautiful (as is the majority of what I’ve seen of South Africa!). Huge mountains, vineyards. We pulled in and I immediately cringed. This was a resort. Everything screamed “If you want to visit Africa, but want to live in your bubble from home the entire time, you’re in the right place!”. Yes, I’m judgmental. But it’s my blog and I write about how I feel. And I HATE places like this. Froo-froo registration desk. Froo-froo restaurant. Froo-froo swimming pool. Froo-froo bar by said swimming pool. Froo-froo white people running around in froo-froo clothes saying and doing froo-froo things. UGH. Already hated it. We were early, so we sat down. The views (as long as you could keep the tourists out of them) were pretty amazing. We met at the meeting point at 3:30pm for our Sunset Safari tour. A guy and girl boarded, and she starts in with all of her fake fear to impress the boyfriend, “Oh my god! I can’t do this! I’m so scared! I don’t want to die! Oh, I just can’t do this!”. Good. Then get the fuck off this truck and do us both a favor. PS: As much as I hate froo-froo resorts, I hate fake ass girls even more. But this was exactly that kind of tourist sheep behavior Dennis had been playing into earlier. Sigh. The truck was full, and we started off. My expectations and excitement level were super low. First stop were HIPPOS!! They were in a huge pond quite a ways away, and in the water. I took about 30 pictures and only a few even turned out. How awesome to see them, though!
The guide was good. I mean REALLY good. He gave us so much information about every animal! Now THIS is what I wanted. In the distance, we could see these 2 massive creatures roaming “free”. Elephants. We drove up the road and they were in it. And they weren’t real pleased with us being there. They started walking toward us, and the guide just slowly backed up the truck to give them their space. Watching these animals cross, and walk off toward the hippo watering hole was just amazing. Aquila is about the same size at Fairy Glen (10,000 hectares, 25,000 acres), but it feels so much more wild. So much more remote. You can’t see buildings and construction and signs of civilization everywhere. In fact, for the vast majority of the trip all you could see was “wild”. I told Brian I was liking this place much better!!
Next, we saw a rhino. WITH her horn! And not only with her horn, but with a nursing baby as well. Awwwwwww! Brian asked about how they insure their safety (from poachers). The guide said there was security everywhere, and we couldn’t even see it. I asked how many rhinos were here. He wouldn’t say, in order to protect them. Nice.
We saw more elan, zebra, and wildebeest. The guide said that the zebra and wildebeest hang out together. That when it’s time for a crocodile infested river crossing, the zebras know the wildebeest will cross first. It was a way of saying wildebeest aren’t as smart as zebras in this circumstance by pointing out how they interact in their environment. Not by labeling them as “stupid” and feeling smug about it. Nice! We came across three more rhinos, just hanging out near the road. And with horns. So innocent and beautiful.
Then it was time to see the lions. Lions at both parks were kept in separate enclosures within the reserve, and I understand that. But this enclosure was MASSIVE!!!!! So much bigger than the enclosures at Fairy Glen, and the enclosures at Panthera. You literally couldn’t see the fence line from end to end it was so big. And there were big rocks (high places) for them to get up on! We didn’t drive right up to them like we did at Fairy Glen. We kept a large distance and admired them from afar. No wonder lions are called the kings- they are truly majestic.
We drove out of the lion enclosure on the opposite side. I really couldn’t get over how big this place was. We had stayed in such a tiny area of Fairy Glen. Here, we drove and drove and drove. We saw an Oryx, and then the guide asked if we could see the thing waaaaaaaaay out by the bush. I couldn’t- it was too far away. He said it was a giraffe. I zoomed, and indeed it was!
We stopped at a little rest area for drinks and snacks, then headed back. I was feeling so much better about the day after experiencing Aquila. So now I’m going to leave you with two parting thoughts:
1. If you are in Cape Town and trying to decide which reserve to go to, go to Aquila- HANDS DOWN. Yes, it adds an hour to your drive (one way). But it’s cheaper, it feels more wild, the guide we had was so much more informative, the animals are respected, and you get all the animals you get at Fairy Glen, but with hippos, oryx, and giraffes as well!!
2. I will never do a private game reserve tour again. Even though Aquila was a better experience, overall, it’s not for me. Neither tour mentioned anything about conservation (except for rhino poaching), which bothered me. These aren’t sanctuaries, but some conservation sentiment would have been nice. Plus, I want to see these animals truly in the wild – not dependent on humans for food. My next such outing will be a real safari (Brian and I are already researching).
Our last full day in South Africa. The time has just flown by. No long drives today, just another visit to Hout Bay, then into Cape Town for lunch, then back to the house. Due to circumstances, the caretaker of the home was unable to return on January 9 like was originally planned. Fortunately, the housesitters I met up with for the Cape Town Street Parade were ending their house sit on the 10th and we were leaving on the 11th. It was like fate! So they were going to meet us at the house tonight to get settled in.
The day’s itinerary started with a drive over Chapman’s Peak to Hout Bay. Toll is 45 rand (about $3.60 US), but man on man are the views worth it!! Side note: They do NOT take international credit cards, so make sure you have cash! There are several little pull outs for taking pictures, and I think we hit every one of them!
We parked, and there wasn’t the mass of cars and people that I was used to seeing. The market is only open on the weekends, so without that, it was pretty dead at the harbor. We walked up the little path into the Hangberg neighborhood where Xoma Aob, my Khoi Khoi friend, lives. I feel so comfortable around him, like I fit in (even though I have zero idea what I actually have in common with this man or his culture). The outside of his home is simple- pieced together with rocks and brick that he mainly found in an area where people dump things. His wife made him buy some bricks to quickly complete the house, and he showed us which those were. Then, we went inside. OH MY GOD. This place is AMAZING and you’d never even guess it from the outside!! I was so blown away. While we were inside, he talked for about an hour of the history and struggles of the Khoi people (indigenous Africans), and I got a lot of it on video for my students. Fascinating.
After our history lesson, it was time for a walk. First, he took the sage that he had been burning in an abalone shell in his fireplace and rubbed some of the ashes on our feet. Then, he sang a song about thanking the ancestors for bringing us together. I wanted to be in the moment, so I didn’t video it, but it was so meaningful and sincere. He then took us on a walk through the streets of Hangberg- greeting practically everyone we passed along the way. We wound through a few streets, then turned down a small street which dead ended into a trail. As we started our ascent up the mountain, there was lots of litter everywhere. Xoma pointed out how awful it is that people don’t care about the sacred mountain. We passed an area full of empty abalone shells. I knew from my research that abalone poaching is a serious business for some residents of Hangberg. We spoke a little about this situation. Up and up, we wound through the fynbos, and soon came to a ridge with an amazing overlook of the ocean and Seal Island. It was breathtaking, and I knew and appreciated that not many outsiders got to experience this. We talked about how he used to swim here as a boy, what this area meant to his people. I was soaking up every word. He has such a calm and peaceful demeanor to him, but I know there’s a fighter in there as well. He spoke about protests the community had waged against the government and police and his role in them. Hangberg is kind of a “hotspot” for uprisings.
He asked if we wanted to hike down to the seal beach. I looked at how steep it was, knew how hot it was that day, and decided I probably shouldn’t. I have a feeling I’m going to regret that, but I just didn’t feel prepared enough for a tough climb back up with no shade and only one bottle of water. We started back toward Hangberg, and Xoma taught us about some of the natural remedies found among the fynbos. Rosemary, sage, geranium, and more.
We walked back through the streets to his house. He gave us some dried sage and taught us how to properly burn it. I didn’t want to leave this place, because it is full of history and knowledge and wisdom that I know I can’t find back home, but it was time to go. We had spent an amazing two and a half hours with Xoma. When I originally asked him last weekend how much it would cost for our tour, he said 150 rand each ($12 US), and I had 300 rand ready. But he had given me something worth SO much more than that. Something priceless. An experience, a connection. I had whispered to Brian as we were entering the house to give him $100 US. And as it came time to leave, I asked him if he had a way to change US dollars to rand. He said he did have a savings account at the bank. Brian handed him two $50 bills. There was this moment of silence that permeated the little house that was decorated with so many amazing things (things that I felt each had a story and importance to Xoma). Tears welled up in his eyes and he said he knew it. He knew we were going to pay him in US currency. And he had actually had a little frustrated talk with himself about it before we arrived and said “money is money”. But what he didn’t know was that we were going to give him that much. When I do something charitable, I only give to individuals. I never give to big organizations. I like to know where my money is going. But I want to make it clear that this was not charity by any stretch of the imagination. I wanted Xoma to know how much he and his story (history) meant to me. And this was the one way I knew I could make a difference in his day the way he had made in mine. We said a warm goodbye to Xoma. I do hope we can meet again someday. As we walked back down the little path from Xoma’s house to the car, Brian asked if I was in my zen place. He knew the answer.
We headed into Cape Town with one goal in mind- LUNCH!! We never eat out- we had eaten out once last weekend in Hout Bay, and this would be the 2nd time. The housesitters I had met said they had lunch at Mama Africa’s on Long Street and that it was really good. I had seen the menu as we walked by and there was a “mixed grill” of exotic African meats that I knew I had to try! Brian ordered the mixed grill, I ordered the bobotie (a very popular African dish). The mixed grill had crocodile, ostrich, springbok, kudu (a type of antelope), and warthog (that we ordered extra) on skewers, and then one sausage that was a combination of springbok and kudu. The bobotie was a ground beef that had so many exotic tasting spices in it- reminded me a bit of curry spices. Now, to the mixed grill…I am a carnivore through and through and make no apologies for it. The crocodile was just like alligator- very good and chickeny tasting. The wart hog was just like pork. I was raised in Texas and I know meat. Ostrich had become my new favorite meat over Christmas. But now, it is springbok and kudu. The flavors- my god they were AMAZING!! So tender!! It practically melted in your mouth. I could have eaten pounds of it!! Mama Africa’s is kind of a “touristy” type restaurant, and now I just wanted to drive out into the bush and have some freshly killed springbok and kudu cooked over an open fire by some African woman who knew how to cook!
We were STUFFED. Headed back through the streets of Cape Town, over the mountain, down to the coast, and back to the house in Simon’s Town for the last time. Got the housesitters settled in, did a little packing, and went to sleep early to prepare for our last adventure tomorrow morning and the flight that would take me away from beautiful South Africa in the evening.
Today is D-Day. Departure day. But with a flight that didn’t leave until 6:30pm, that meant almost an entire day to devote to one last hoorah! Today was a trip to Robben Island, the island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. Honestly, I don’t know much about apartheid or any of that history (yet- gotta research for class!). So I was hoping for a good mini crash course.
If you want to go to Robben Island, at least during the high season for tourism (mid-December to mid-January), you have to book your tickets in advance online. Originally, I had planned to do this trip by myself over Christmas, but it was completely sold out for days on end. I got us tickets for January 11 at 9am. We woke up, finished packing, said goodbye to the housesitters, and headed into Cape Town. It was weird leaving the house to someone other than the homeowner or caretaker…and I felt some kind of odd responsibility toward it. Like if something went wrong on their watch it would be my fault somehow because I suggested them, or that I should check up on them and make sure everything was ok (even though I know they are STELLAR house sitters with amazing reviews from numerous international sits). Maybe without any real pets to bond with (it’s hard to bond with a porcupine, although I love and will never forget my little Behati!!), I bonded with the house. Down the hill we went for the last time. Past the little penguin beach. Past the shops. Up and over the mountain toward Noordhoek. Down into Cape Town. All of this such a familiar path by now. We got the V & A Waterfront (where I went to the aquarium what seems like months ago!), and I must say that the signs telling you where to park and how to find the boat were pretty much non-existant. Google maps tried to take us down some industrial freight delivery road. Let me pause here and say that of everywhere I’ve been with my beloved Google Maps, it sucks the worst in South Africa. I’ve been on remote roads in the middle of no where Cuba with more accurate information… We finally asked someone, found the “red building” to park in. Asked someone which lift to take to the boat. Ugh. Stepped outside and there was a huge line. This is a VERY popular tour! Had to show our tickets, go through security, and then get on the boat. Let me clarify “boat”. This was a huge catamaran with a zillion nice seats inside. Kind of like sitting on a really wide train! 🙂 The housesitters had told us to be the first off the boat so we didn’t have to wait on a bus when we got to the island, so we sat at the back of the boat.
We literally could not have picked a more beautiful day to go to the island. When it’s windy, the boats don’t run, and that is a serious concern. But today there was zero wind and the sea was practically like glass. Of course, we took our Bonine as a precaution anyway, because no one wants to be seasick then get on a plane! It was a quick half hour ish to the island, and we jumped up and got in line to get off the boat as quickly as possible. Saw where the buses were, and went into our speed-walk-pass-up-everyone mode. Got on the first bus they filled. It was the last to drive through the gate. 🙂
We then drove to the prison, where we would be led on a tour by an actual former political prisoner who was imprisoned here. That’s pretty sobering, and I was really excited to learn from someone who had lived it, not just studied it. Our group was massive. Probably 40 people or so. Side Note: If you’re ever in a large tour group with me and lose me in the crowd, find the guide. I’m always about 6” away so I can hear everything! Our guide explained that he had been imprisoned here. He was arrested on June 18, 1984. He was kept in an individual cell for 6 months. Two years after his arrest, he was sentenced to 14 years for “terrorism”- basically, for fighting for his rights as a black man against an oppressive government. He served 4 years of that 14 year sentence, because all former political prisoners in the country were released on February 11, 1990- including Nelson Mandela. We entered the prison. It’s sectioned off into different blocks, designated by letters. We started in F block. Here there was a large (relatively speaking) communal cell that we entered. This is the same cell that our guide spent most of his time in. Wow. This cell would hold 40-60 men- both political and criminal. The prison was opened in 1961, and until the Red Cross intervened in 1979, the men slept on mats on the floor. The Red Cross provided bunk beds and helped to better conditions in the prison. Nelson Mandela was one of the prisoners that had complained to the Red Cross about the living conditions- food, bedding, treatment by the guards, etc… The picture below shows the mat and the bunk bed.
Racism didn’t just exist outside of the prison walls, it existed inside as well. Here you can see the daily allowance of food, and it’s split into 2 groups. B- Colored/Asiatics and C- Bantus. I’ll be honest, it was really hard to keep up with what the guide was saying. His accent was thick. He had to speak loud because there were so many people, and his voice echoed off the cement floors and walls. My ears give me fits as it is, so this was not my ideal learning environment! I had no idea what this card even was (other than a menu) until I came back and really listened to the video I took and did a little research. What’s a Bantu? A black person. Look at the differences in what they were allowed. And honestly, look at how little food it really is. The whole thing is just….degrading. God.
Next, we moved into A block. These were individual cells, and they were tiny. There were probably about 70 cells in total (maybe more). We were allowed to walk on our own through the block. Practically every cell had a picture of the man who lived here, a written story from them about their time there in their own words, and sometimes even a momento of their time there- a book of letters they kept from family, a certificate they won playing table tennis, etc… I knew I didn’t have time to read them all, so I went through quickly taking two pics in each cell- one of the man and one of his story. Some of them (like the one below) are not “classroom friendly”, but many were. I was so excited that students could read these men’s own words and see their faces- something to make it a little more real to them. Imagine my chagrin when I was on maybe the 10th cell, when our guide called for us to move to the next building. WHAT?! We hadn’t even been in there for 5 minutes! And we hadn’t even worked our way to Nelson Mandela’s cell! Brian and I, and another man and his son started running down the hall, checking every cell’s picture trying to find Mr. Mandela’s- which all of us could have swore the guide said was the 7th cell. The rest of the group had exited, the guide had been REALLY clear about staying together, and all 4 of us were just in a panic. After checking every cell where we thought it was, we finally followed the group out. I really did not like being rushed through like that and missing so much important information. In fact, I was mad.
We were herded across to another block and into a courtyard. The guide said that this was the courtyard for Nelson Mandela’s block, and his window was the 4th one on the right. PHEW! We hadn’t missed his cell after all! Everyone pushed their way into the hallway of the block, and filed past the cell that Mandela had spent 18 years in- from 1961 to 1982. He served a total of 27 years- some of that time at other prisons. His cell was exactly like every other cell on the block. Nothing special about it. Nothing that made it stand out. About 8 feet x 7 feet with a mat and blanket, a table with his food dish and a cup, and a metal trash can. It wasn’t for trash.
And that was it. Our prison tour was over. I really felt like something was “missing”. Some part of the experience. Some deeper understanding. I don’t know. We boarded our bus with a new tour guide. A young man who probably wasn’t even born in 1990 when the prisoners were released. But he was quite knowledgeable! We drove around the island to see other parts of it. First up was a huge graveyard. The island actually served as a place to remove people with various problems from society in the 1800’s- leprosy, mental illness, the elderly, people with diabetes- anyone no one wanted to take care of, basically…Ignorance. I question how much more educated we really are today…
We then pulled up in front of a lime quarry. This is where the prisoners were forced to work every day. The sun shining off the blinding white lime and no sun glasses. The dust from taking lime rocks and pounding them down to powder with no masks to protect their lungs. Hardly any food. Watched so closely by guards and dogs that you dare not slow down or get out of line. Except….to go to the bathroom. A little cave was dug out (you can see it in the pic on the left) for that purpose. And it STUNK! Horrible!!! But for the prisoners, it was their sanctuary. Because it smelled so bad, the guards wouldn’t go in there. And newspapers (sometimes years old, but still news to them) and books were smuggled in and hidden there. Quick meetings were held where the prisoners could talk openly with each other. If those limestone walls could talk…
We pulled up in front of a fenced in yard with several buildings, and learned about a very interesting man I had never heard of. Robert Sobukwe. He was educated, and a fervent organizer and leader of black protests against Apartheid. After one incident, he was arrested and spent 3 years in prison. AFTER he finished his sentence, a law was actually written in to the Constitution stating that he was to be kept on Robben Island at the complete discretion of the Minister of Justice. In other words, imagine you are fighting for your basic human rights, are arrested, serve your complete prison sentence, and instead of going home you are told that a new law has been put into place and you aren’t going anywhere unless the Minister of Justice decides you are no longer a threat. Outrageous! The law was called the “Sobukwe Clause”, and he was the only person to have a law written that only applied to him!! He wasn’t kept in the prison, but in a house on the Island (see the house on the left with the electric pole). It was basically solitary confinement, as he couldn’t interact with the other prisoners. But he was allowed the luxury of books and magazines that other prisoners couldn’t have. His family would even come and stay with him for a week or so every once in a while. He remained here for an additional 6 years- earning a degree in Economics from the University of London. Actually, after reading materials were finally allowed into the prison, most every political prison left with at least one degree. Those buildings on the right with all the doors? I never would have guessed that they were DOG KENNELS!! Air conditioned and much larger than prisoner cells, the dogs that lived here were treated well. They had rank- one rank ABOVE the guard they were assigned to, to insure the guard took the best care imaginable of the dog. These were highly skilled attack dogs, meant to keep the prisoners in line…
And just like that, our day at Robben Island was over. Brian and I both said it would have been better if you could just do a walking tour of the island, either an audio tour (like Alcatraz) or with signage. That way you wouldn’t feel so rushed and “herded” everywhere. There really wasn’t enough time to soak it all in. We were only on the island for about 2 hours. One thing will stick out in my mind always. Something our former political prisoner guide said. A tourist asked him what crime he committed. He simply answered that he committed no crime. His charges were a different thing entirely, though. How true. How can standing up for your basic human rights- the right to be treated fairly and equally, the right to freedom and dignity, be a crime- even if you have to use force? Who among us wouldn’t do the same? His words were so simple, but so powerful.
Went back to the dock, boarded our return boat (not nearly as nice as the first one), and grabbed lunch at the water front. Returned our car, checked our bags with Lufthansa, and off we went. It gets harder and harder to come home after each trip. My traveling legs are already itchy, and I’m seriously contemplating a trip to Colombia over spring break in two months. I don’t feel like I can wait for summer. I’m writing this blog from my couch, it’s 11am and thanks to relentless jag lag I’ve already been awake for almost 12 hours (that’s right- since 11:30pm last night). I’ll hit a wall here soon, and the vicious cycle will start again. But it’s all worth it. Because I went in to Africa. And Africa went into me.