So I finally got around to writing a post about my Easter Break trip. In some ways it is appropriate that it took so long for me to write the description, considering how long it took to plan the trip. Plan A had been to travel to Cape Town by sleeper train via Johannesburg. Plan B had involved getting tickets on a discount airline. We used plan F. We in this case included myself, Asrah, Patty (here for the semester from U of Minnesota,) and Kim (escaping the cold of Alberta at UKZN.) We rented a small, white sedan (for some reason all rental cars in SA seem to be white) and drove all the way down the coast to Cape Town. The trip went something like this …
Cape Town or Bust: The first 3 days
We left on the first leg of the trip at 6:00 am and drove south through the Transkei, past Mthatha, East London, Port Elizabeth and finally arrived in Jefferys Bay in the dark. It was an exhausting but beautiful drive. The Transkei was a formal homeland under Apartheid and will be forever in my mind as a land of rolling hills and dozens of large trucks moving slowly up them. Jefferys Bay is the surfing capital of SA and home to its largest population of surfer dudes (official motto: Howzit Bru!) We stayed at a cheap, friendly hostel, went down to the beach, did a little shopping, and then went horseback riding on the beach. This last activity was my favourite part of the trip but left me sore for the 5 days following. Galloping in the surf of the Indian Ocean really is quite a rush. We left JBay that night and travelled down the Garden Route to Plettenberg Bay (“Plett” if you’re a local or a surfer dude.) It was a charming little resort town that Kim compared to Whistler in Canada. We went ocean kayaking the next morning hoping to see dolphins. Instead, 3 of the 4 of us got seasick, one of us threw up, and our guide Lance made things worse by informing the group halfway through about Plett’s worldwide reputation for large Great White Sharks. Needless to say, everyone was happy to get back on the beach. That afternoon we had a nice meal on the beach, watched a kayak (surf-ski) race and the ladies got massages. The next day we were back on the road and soon arrived in the Mother City.
This is Much too Cold to be Africa: A week in Cape Town in the wintertime
I must confess that the balmy Durban weather has made me weak. When we arrived in Cape Town I was cold! Besides the weather though, Cape Town is an amazing amalgamation of a city. We spent our week walking around Long street, shopping in markets, shopping in trendy boutiques (As one might expect, traveling with 3 women meant a lot of shopping,) and seeing the sites. My favourite parts of my stay in the Western Cape were our quest to see Boulder Beach (the place for wild South African Penguins) and our trip to Robben Island. First about the Penguins. Penguins are Patty’s favourite animals in all the world and so she gave us an ultimatum on our arrival that we needed to see the Penguins. So we took a rickety, graffiti covered train to Simon’s Town, a quant little town that is famous for its navy base and its penguins. We made it just in time to get into Boulder Beach national park 3 minutes before it closed. The penguins were loud, smelly, and wonderful. The next day we took the ferry to Robben Island for a tour of the infamous prison that held the likes of Nelson Mandela. I am sad to say that the whole tour felt overly commercialized, but the tour was lead by a former prisoner and was very moving. Our last day in the city we drove up Signal Hill, right in the middle of the city, to watch the sunset. It was the great end to a great trip.
How Many More Kilometers: The drive back
We left Cape Town on an unfortunately warm and sunny day and drove back to JBay. On the way we stopped at and flirted with the idea of trying the world’s highest bungy jump from Bloukrans Bridge. Next day we drove back through the Transkei and stayed the night at a backpackers in Port St. Johns on the Wild Coast. Unfortunately we didn’t get to Port St. Johns until dark and spent a good amount of time driving the wrong direction on gravel roads into the middle of nowhere. By the time we made it to the hostel all we wanted to do was sleep and then get up early to finish the drive. It was a shame, because Port St. Johns was really beautiful with the sun up.
I had a great time on the trip, but I might kill the next person who tries to keep me in a car for that long. Now I have less than a month until I’m back on the other side of the Atlantic. SA is truly a fascinating place!
A few (of Asrah’s) photos from my Easter Break trip down the garden route to Cape Town. I’m sorry I haven’t gotten them up sooner, but the IT service here at UKZN has been on strike and internet access has been spotty. I won’t go into great detail about the trip here, but I’ll include a detailed written post. Also I’ll post more photos when I get my hands on them.
I have to admit that when I first arrived in SA/UKZN the thing that surprised me the most was how similar it was to home. Of course, there are exceptions. First of all, the weather here doesn’t really change. It’s sort of like waking up to the same sunny, high 80F day over and over again (think Groundhog Day minus Bill Murray.) This really hit home yesterday, when it was cool and rainy for the first time in more than a month. I’m somewhat shamed to admit it, but I miss the cold.
Another major difference, are the strikes. South Africa, like France, evidently has a healthy striking culture. So far, I’ve lost 7 days of class and had a total overhaul of deadlines due to student and teacher strikes. Personally, I find the whole thing somewhat ridiculous. Often the protesters have some good points, but 90% of what they ask for involves capital investment and most strikes involve a lot of expensive property damage (e.g. throwing water on computers in the student LAN.) In addition, the students on strike like to demand the resignation of faculty and staff members that they dislike. At the Edgewood campus of UKZN (outside of Durban) a group of students torched the car of disliked administrator, who was in turn fired to appease the protesters. There’s nothing quite like losing both your car and your job on the same day. Generally, most of the students go unpunished because, immunity for student actions is at the top of the list of concessions. Needless to say, most everyone here knows roughly when it’s “that time of year again” and nobody is surprised when a strike breaks out.
I felt like writing about strikes today, because last weekend the strike at the Westville campus of UKZN got really out of hand. Students were stoning cars, lighting dormitories on fire, and pepper spraying other students. Rumors were flying around all five campuses that a growing number of students were being killed by police retaliation (which was NOT true) and the whole university was closed on Friday. Things seem to have calmed down now, and I have never been in any immediate danger, but I have been thinking a lot about what would happen if we did this stuff back at UPenn. To tell you the truth, I can’t even begin to imagine that happening.
Anyway that’s really all for now. I’ve been planing my Easter break trip to Johannesburg/Cape town and will post those pictures after I get back.
P.S.-I’m looking for something to do this summer so let me know if you have any internship/job ideas!
So I was lucky enough to have my family come and visit me here in South Africa for my birthday. Not only did they fly halfway around the world, but they were nice enough to take me on Safari (I know it was the stereotypical thing to do, but hey T.I.A.) While she was here, my older sister was nice enough to remind me that I don’t update my blog enough. Therefore, I have decided to take some time to catch everyone up with my last two adventures and pledge to do a better job keeping things current.
The best place to begin is with my trip to Kosi Bay (SA)/Ponta do Ouro (MZ). As you may or may not know, I’m study at UKZN as part of an InterStudy Abroad program and the people at IS set up a group trip to Northern KwaZulu Natal and Southern Mozambique. So the five of us from Howard College got on a world-weary tour bus with the InterStudy contingent from Pietermaritzburg and headed north. On the bus, I learned the phrase T.I.A, meaning “This is Africa,” from one of the InterStudy program directors. These three letters came to exemplify the entire trip. We got lost en route and didn’t arrive at our lodging until midnight (Kosi Bay Cabins:<http://www.kosibaycabins.com> Nice accommodations and friendly people.) We of course had to braai anyway and ate at a little past 1AM. The next morning we got up at 7:00 to go over the border into Mozambique. If I had to describe Moz in one word it would be “bumpy.” When we crossed the border we drove on the “main road to Maputo,” which was a sand trail inaccessible without a 4X4 vehicle. After 20 minutes of teeth-chattering road we came to the town of Ponta do Ouro. Ponta is famous for 2 things- the beach and the R&R at Fernando’s. We had the opportunity to experience both. At the beach we took a “ocean safari,” which consisted of zipping about on a dive boat and watching dolphins play in the surf. Needless to say, it was a lot of fun despite the crippling sunburn I got on my back. Our final stop in Ponta was Fernando’s, a hole in the wall bar that is famous for selling a kidney-pummeling drink called the R&R. It consists of 80% Mozambican Rum and 20% Raspberry Soda, it tastes like cough syrup, and it costs R30 (aprox. $4.25.) For the students of InterStudy the rest of the day was either very fuzzy or quite hilarious. All in all, it was a fun trip.
My next/latest adventure was the family trip to the Thornybush game reserve. I skipped my Thursday classes and the Nielsen clan flew North to Mpumalanga province. The Thornybush Reserve borders on the famous Kruger National Park, but is privately owned. The advantage to a private game reserve is that the rangers can drive off-road to follow the wildlife and they have a better idea of where different animals are hiding. We stayed the Serondella lodge, which was lavish, incredible, and a powerful reminder of why one should always try to travel with their parents. We went on 6 game drives and were able to see all of the Big 5 (buffalo, elephant, rhino, lion, leopard,) plus a lot more. I’ve posted a few of my favorite photos below. I would have to say that it was one of the best family vacations I’ve ever had.
Well, I finally got around to going someplace interesting - the Drakensberg Mountains. Last weekend, my girlfriend Asrah and I rented a car with our friends Kim and Kevin and went camping/hiking in NW KZN. The car was a tiny, subcompact chevy, affectionately nicknamed “the golf cart,” which, despite having the smallest tires of any vehicle I have ever seen, got great gas mileage. We stayed at a fun backpacker’s hostel, which combined a bohemian atmosphere (Reception was quite drunk when we arrived) with a full bar, jacuzzi, swimming pool, and great kitchen facilities. It would have surely been a peaceful getaway, if the hostel wasn’t also hosting a convention for the SA Iron Maiden motorcycle club. Needless to say, there was a lot of noise, leather jackets, and old, naked men jumping into the swimming pool. We avoided these interesing guests by taking two hikes over the weekend, the first was “self-guided” and the second was arranged with the hostel.
The first hike involved wandering through the wilderness near Cathedral Peak, looking for the most poorly marked trails known to mankind. It was actually good fun though because we got a scenic drive through some rural villages and ended up eating our lunch on the top of a huge rock and looking down the valley. The second hike was much more involved, with a 2.5 hour chartered bus ride into Free State province and a grueling hike up to Tukela falls (the highest waterfall in Africa, second highest in the world.) We left in the middle of a fog bank, hiked for about 1.5 hrs and then scrambled up a 250 m rock slide to have lunch on the mountain top (At this point, Asrah, who had never been hiking before, had some choice words for me.) However, the fog burned off and the view of the falls was great. To climb down the mountain, we then had to descend on 2 sets of chain ladders down a sheer rock face. From there it was a beautiful hike down the mountain, a 3.5 hr ride back to the hostel (1 hr stopping for construction) and then a 3 hr night drive back to campus to make Monday classes. All in all, it was a good weekend.
P.S. - for irony’s sake, we returned to find a student strike that has shut down campus for the entire week …