This Is Not the End

Perhaps I haven’t posted in awhile because I’m not ready to accept that my time in South Africa has come to an end. I’ve been avoiding sitting down and writing about my thoughts on the whole experience. There were so many significant experiences packed into these past four months; unforgettable ones, heart wrenching ones, and difficult to come to terms with ones, amongst others. It’s all a lot to comprehend right now. But as I’ve learned from my past experience on my Immersion semester in the backcountry of Washington state, reflection and growth from the experience occurs awhile after the experience has ended.

The philosophy of Ubuntu after which this blog is titled is where I would like to begin my thought process. If you aren’t already familiar with Ubuntu, it is an old African philosophy that symbolizes humanness toward others. Simply put: Without one another, we can’t be. During my stay in Cape Town I interacted with and befriended a variety of people from all different walks of life. It’s hard to leave those people knowing that I won’t be back for awhile because they had such an impact on me. But the one thing in common amongst all of those interactions, and which stands out the most vividly when I share stories now, is how everyone embraced Ubuntu. One particular observation stands out in my mind. I was having a conversation with a woman named Sibu who was extremely upset and angry. Despite her state of mind at that moment, Sibu greeted passing people she knew with a smile and proceeded to ask them how they were. It was as if her anger never even existed. She did not let her present mindset affect her interactions with others. This made an impression on me. When I am in a bad mood, I often let it affect how I treat others. I may be disrespectful or rude because I only care about my own feelings. However, Sibu put her feelings aside and greeted others with respect. To me this represented Ubuntu because she was genuinely interested in how others were feeling.

Another example of Ubuntu was how people whom I had just recently met opened their homes to me and others when we needed a place to stay. The word hospitality is an understatement in South Africa. People were genuinely concerned about my well-being and I have never felt so warmly welcomed by strangers. Despite moving to Cape Town all by myself and not knowing a single soul when I arrived, it was not a challenge to meet people. The woman named Ursula, whom I met the first weekend I arrived and invited me on a strenuous hike up Chapman’s Peak, continued to email me throughout my stay and inquire as to how I was doing and what adventures I had been on. She was disappointed that she was not able to take me on more hikes up the mountain since she got her hip replaced a few weeks after I arrived. We re-connected in the last two weeks of my stay and were able to hit the trails together. She was so eager to get back on the mountain even after she had just started to walk again. She’s 72 years old and was doing rock scrambles 2 1/2 months after having her hip replaced. Woah! A wonderful woman with a contagious spirit for adventure.

There, I got some thoughts out. More will come later as I process the experience. For now, I wanted to share these pictures taken on my last few days in Cape Town.

View from the hike with Ursula

View from the hike with Ursula

Hard to say goodbye to these talented artists who taught me Shona

Hard to say goodbye to these talented artists who taught me Shona and welcomed me into their everyday lives

Good humor while making a sheep

Good humor while making a sheep

Abisha is the master bead artist

Abisha is the master bead artist

Got this shot of Table Mountain and Devil's Peak on a beautiful fall day before I left

Got this shot of Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak on a beautiful fall day before I left

Going to miss that old Lion's Head, my favorite mountain in the city

Going to miss that old Lion’s Head, my favorite mountain in the city

 

South Africa will always remain in my heart

South Africa will always remain in my heart

 

Last day at my favorite spot on Chapman's Peak Drive overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Hout Bay in the background

Last day at my favorite spot on Chapman’s Peak Drive overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Hout Bay in the background. Hmm I can still feel the sun kissing my face and salty breeze blowing my hair 

So long for now South Africa. I’ll be back in the future. I’m grateful for every experience I’ve had…the good, stressful, happy, sad, and challenging. I’ve embraced it all and I hope that a piece of me remains there.

The Power Family Lands in South Africa

Upon the arrival of my lovely family, I acted as tour guide for the week as my parents and sister got a glimpse into the temporary home I have made in Cape Town and a taste of the culture of South Africa. In the course of five short days we covered a lot of ground in and around Cape Town.  Although I made a tentative itinerary for the week, that immediately was adjusted as a result of the weather. With a forecast predicting rain for the middle of the week, we took advantage of the sunny, clear weather on Monday morning and hit the slopes of Table Mountain…cable car style. The generous and kind chairman of BEN, Louis de Waal, who is also chairman of the Table Mountain Cable Car, offered to treat my family to a ride up to the top of the mountain that overlooks the city. Donning his VIP Chairman pin on his sweater, Louis provided us with the history of the cable car, how the machinery operates, and gave us a personal tour atop the mountain. We couldn’t have found ourselves in better company. The top was quite chilly but we were rewarded with clear views of the bustling city below and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.

To the top!

To the top!

The cable car travels at 10m/s and has a rotating floor..a bit dizzying

The cable car travels at 10m/s and has a rotating floor..a bit dizzying

Yep, we had the cable car all to ourselves...one of the perks of working with Louis

Yep, we had the cable car all to ourselves…one of the perks of working with Louis

Shot of cable car and Lion's Head

Shot of cable car and Lion’s Head

View of the city and Lion's Head and Rump with the Atlantic Ocean in the background

View of the city and Lion’s Head and Rump with the Atlantic Ocean in the background

Table Mountain on the right and Devil's Peak on the left tower above the city

Table Mountain on the right and Devil’s Peak on the left tower above the city

A lesson with Louis on geography

A lesson with Louis on geography

Dad an I excited to mail postcards from the top of Table Mountain with a specially marked Table Mountain stamp

Dad an I excited to mail postcards from the top of Table Mountain with a specially marked Table Mountain stamp

Looking at the Twelve Apostles, the mountain range that runs along the coast

Looking at the Twelve Apostles, the mountain range that runs along the coast

Pointing to Robben Island where we would soon be headed

Pointing to Robben Island where we would soon be headed

Next on the packed agenda was a most necessary drive along the scenic mountain pass known as Chapman’s Peak, a steeply built road on the mountainside that winds along the Atlantic Ocean. We started the drive in Hout Bay driving away from the city. Although a toll road for cars, there is no fee for bicyclists. On most weekends and early mornings, the road becomes a cycling Mecca. Living close to Chapman’s Peak provides me with the opportunity to ride this beautiful route frequently.

The Sentinal pointing upward at the tip of Hout Bay

The Sentinal pointing upward at the tip of Hout Bay

A spectacular view was around every curve

A spectacular view was around every curve

Cloudy weather in the middle of the week didn’t deter us from venturing to Cape Point, the most southwestern tip of Africa (not the most southern point). After waiting out a windy rainstorm in the visitor’s center, it appeared clear enough to walk to the lighthouse. However, we soon found ourselves caught in the middle of another storm once we reached the top. We could understand why the tip of the Cape was so difficult for early explorers to navigate. My sister Bridget wanted to know where the beautiful blue water was that I had so many pictures of.

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We hit the city to go to the District 6 Museum after seeing this scary cloud

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Rainy and cold…not the South Africa I had been telling them about before they arrived…but always beautiful

Cape Point Lighthouse

Cape Point Lighthouse

Wet and cold, we headed back to Muizenberg to warm up at one of my favorite food joints on the beach, Yoffi Falafel. Tasty pitas lovingly filled with layers of falafel balls, humus, tahini sauce, onions, cucumbers, cabbage, and avocado. With happy, warm stomachs we relaxed at the house before walking down to Kalk Bay for dinner at Olympia Café.

Evening beach walk

Evening beach walk

The end of the week provided us with warmer, sunny weather so we hit the road for a scenic drive along the coast eastward. Our destination was a game reserve. However we would not make it there in time for the afternoon game drive. So we headed south following signs for Cape Aghullas, the southernmost tip of Africa. Along the way we passed endless farmland with sheep blending into the landscape. After being disappointed in not being able to show my family the “Big Five of Africa” – elephant, rhino, lion, wildebeest, and cheetah, it turns out that we had a magical evening catching a sunset where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet at the very tip of Africa.

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Coastal drive

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That’s where I live, over there across the bay

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We came upon some baboons along the way

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South African countryside

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In Afrikaans: Cape Aghullas, the southernmost point of Africa

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Just in time for sunset

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On Friday morning we stopped in at the BEN office to express our gratitude to Louis. He provided each of us with a specialized BEN cycling jersey. He also showed my parents and sister a map indicating the towns where BEN has established Bicycling Empowerment Center bike shops and school trainings in bicycle road safety. The scope of outreach that BEN has completed over the course of 11 years is outstanding for such a small NGO. Although retired, Louis has done a lot in terms of getting bikes to schools and kids who can’t afford them. One of the “Magnificent Seven,” Louis has ridden in all 36 Cape Argus Cycle Tours. A kind man with a big heart, Louis is passionate about bicycling in the same way I am: it just makes sense to get around by bicycle.

Waking up to sunrise over the ocean

Waking up to sunrise over the ocean

Pointing to where I was in Namibia

Pointing to where I was in Namibia

Next we headed to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens where we had a picnic and enjoyed the warm weather.

Castle Rock to the left and Fernwood Peak on the right

Castle Rock to the left and Fernwood Peak on the right

Purple loving ladies

Purple loving ladies

Our favorite tree

Our favorite tree

A trip to Cape Town wouldn’t be complete without going to Robben Island to see Nelson’s Mandela’s prison cell. Our tour guide in the prison was an ex-prisoner whose voice bellowed through the prison. The tour took us around the island on a bus and then ended with a walk through the prison and a glimpse into Mandela’s former cell.

A different perspective of Cape Town from the ferry

A different perspective of Cape Town from the ferry

Mandela's former cell

Mandela’s former cell

On Friday evening we enjoyed a very filling Ethiopian dinner at an authentic Ethiopian restaurant in the city called Addis, after the capital of Ethiopia. The experience began with our waiter pouring warm water onto each of our hands to wash them before eating (there is no silverware), then we were served appetizers with injera, then came many rolls of injera with our main meal which consisted of beef, chicken, lamb, shrimp, and several veggie dishes, and at the end we received dessert as well as Ethiopian coffee and popcorn. Apparently Ethiopia is where coffee originated from. It sure was strong coffee.

Our table covered with a traditional Ethiopian hat

Our table covered with a traditional Ethiopian hat

Our plate of a variety of food served on injera bread

Our plate of a variety of food served on injera bread

Popcorn and coffee!

Popcorn and coffee!

 

Although a short visit, it was so nice to see my family and share with them the South Africa I have been experiencing. My own time here is nearing the end and now I will have to prepare myself for the culture shock of returning to America after I have assimilated to life here.

Namibia: The Land God Made in Anger

I have good news about the culmination of my internship…but first!

An interruption to fill you in on my most recent adventures.

My friend Casey and I recently ventured to the hot and dry land of Namibia for a weeklong road trip. The name Namibia comes from the Nama word meaning “vast place of nothingness.” We discovered this to be true in the sense that the country is quite uninhabited by people with a population of only 3.1 million, most likely due to the inhospitable environment of primarily desert. Although we crossed paths with very view people (and when we did they were usually tourists like us), we did see a plethora of wildlife. A friend told me that the bushmen living in Namibia referred to the country as “the land God made in anger.” Yes, our first impression of the country was that the environment and landscape was very harsh. But it was an incredibly beautiful country as well. The isolation of the country was powerful; we felt very far from any form of civilization most of the time. And this is what made our time there feel so special.

Our trip began with the unfortunate circumstance of having our rental car broken into while we parked it on the street in Muizenberg at 6 am to fetch something inside for 10 minutes. Fortunately only one bag was stolen containing food and sadly Casey’s camera. Because both Casey and I have not had a car while we have been living here, we weren’t accustomed to making sure to not leave bags visible in the car, even if only for a short while. One of the downfalls of living in this beautiful country is the fact that you constantly have to be looking over your shoulder due to the high crime rate. I’ve actually felt very safe while living here but am aware that crime is happening all around me. Two of my friends have been pickpocketed, a neighbor up the street was attacked when he came outside while two men were trying to break into his empty car, and I am constantly advised to not walk alone at night. After the long wait to get the broken window replaced, we found our spirits uplifted as we hit the road headed north.

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The long straight road to Namibia

Due to our later than expected start, we arrived at the border in the dark. Our first stop was at a campground on the Orange River, which separates South Africa from Namibia. The following day we had a 33 km paddling trip on the river booked with the company Amanzi River Trails. A native guide named Mario would be taking us down the lazy river to make sure we didn’t take any channels that would bring us to a dead end. After a short ten minute drive in the dark from the border post town of Noordoewer, we arrived at our destination. As we went up to the tiki-like bar to check in, we were warmly greeted by the owner of the company, Colleen. I was put into contact with Colleen by Teuns Kok, an avid adventurer who I have been working with in the non-motorised transportation department for the city. Colleen immediately hooked us up with dinner and sat down to chat with us about Teuns’ incredible paddling abilities. Tired from the eight hour drive and eager to look at the starry sky, we hit the hay early that night after playing a game of cribbage (Casey is a math tutor at a small college in Muizenberg; I can see why he loves the counting game of cribbage). When I awoke the next morning, I was stunned by where we had slept. I knew we were camped right alongside the river but I had no idea what it looked like:

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We woke up to this view

My first impression of the river and surrounding environment was
surprise. I was amazed that a river could be found flowing through such rough,
dry terrain. Naked, orange-ish brown mountains of rocks and sand bordered
either side of the large but calm river. As we rounded a bend, I felt as if we
were on a different planet. Picture your mind’s version of Mars with a
reflective river on it. I had never seen such a barren landscape. The only green
could be seen alongside the banks of the river. And this is where the most
activity we saw taking place. When we beached the boats to cool off in the
water and eat lunch, I followed a goat path through a pass to the other side of
the mountain. I distinctly remember my ears ringing because there was no sound.
It was completely silent; no wind, crickets, water, animals. Nothing. I did
come across a scorpion though. While exploring, I ran into some goats greedily
feasting on whatever vegetation they could find. A farmer was slowly herding
the goats along the river. Mario and the farmer exchanged a greeting in
Afrikaans, one of the many languages of Namibia.

Taking a break to swim

Taking a break to swim

Exploring

Exploring

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Hungry goats

Hungry goats

Coming across the goats and a farmer, where there was no farm in sight, was a surprise. But I did not expect what we came across next. As Mario led us on, he shouted something incomprehensible to us from up ahead. As we drew nearer, I realized he was telling us to look at the cows. I could not help but laugh when we witnessed cows standing in the shallow water feeding on the high grass. The landscape of the river transitioned before our eyes to that of smooth boulders and tall grass growing in the river. It tickled me to see these random cows standing in this river where the only grass existed. The thing that was not funny about the situation was how skinny the cows were. It didn’t appear that there was much for them to eat.

 

 

 

King Kong Mountain behind the pointy mountain

King Kong Mountain behind the pointy mountain

In the middle of this harsh mountainous desert with a river being the only source of water, we were surprised to discover more wildlife. Next we came upon wild horses. Five beautiful slender horses were standing in the water grazing on the green grass as we paddled by. How did they get here? I don’t know but there was something mystical about them. I was wondering if a unicorn would emerge from the bushes next!

 

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As the sun was nestling its way between the mountains, we heard a group of baboons loudly scrambling down the mountain on the opposite side of the river. One baby could be seen being carried by its mother on her back. A fire kept us warm as the evening grew chilly. I laid on my back to gaze at the incredible night sky sparkling with stars; shooting stars appeared every which way and I have never seen such a clear Milky Way. I stared at the sky for hours feeling an immense peace of mind with the wilderness we were surrounded by. At about 4 am the baboons who had come down the mountain to sleep arose and made their way back up the mountain barking like dogs.

At the pullout point

At the pullout point

Back on the river that morning, we paddled another 9 km to a pullout point where we would be picked up by Colleen. She drove us back to the campground on one of the few paved roads in Namibia. We thanked her for everything and hit a gravel road in our Volkswagon Polo to drive to our next destination: the Fish River Canyon. Apparently it is the second biggest canyon in the world next to the Grand Canyon. On the way there, we passed no cars on the long gravel road we were driving on. All around us was a vast desert with no signs of life save a herd of antelope looking like a mirage in the distance. We did drive by a shanty town with shacks made out of straw.

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When we arrived at the canyon around 3 pm there was one other group of people there. The canyon is located in the Ais-Ais/Ritchersveld National Park. Soon after we arrived, the other group left and we were the only two people overlooking this immense canyon. The Fish River snakes its way through the deep canyon.

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Kokerboom or Quiver Tree - a type of aloe

Kokerboom or Quiver Tree – a type of aloe

We had decided that we were going to camp that night on the side of the road. We found a spot where we could make a small fire and enjoy some rice, beans, and cheese (RBC), one of my favorite camping dishes because of its simplicity and delicious taste. We were tucked in our sleeping bags under the stars by 9 pm.  In the middle of the night we were startled by the sound of hooves trampling the ground nearby. It was so dark that we could not tell what it was but by the sound of the hooves we knew there were many. One of the animals stopped and made a noise that sounded like a horse sighing. I wondered if it could be zebras.

The following day we got on the road early to make the long drive to Sossusvlei, an oasis of giant sand dunes. During the drive, we saw an incredible amount of wildlife and the scenery was out of this world. The most popular animal we saw was antelope, specifically gemsbok and springbok. We saw ostrich, a fox, kudu, and a pair of warthogs jogged across the road right in front of the car. I was very excited to see zebra right after we passed a sign warning of zebras. We also passed a sign for giraffe but unfortunately didn’t spot any. We decided to take the most scenic route which borders the Namib desert, a much longer way to travel but definitely worth the while. The views were stunning:

Sunrise in the desert

Sunrise in the desert

Communal bird nest

Communal bird nest

 

Some are double deckers (or bunked)

Some are double deckers (or bunked)

Looking into the nest from below

Looking into the nest from below

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Wild ostriches

Wild ostriches

Gemsbok antelope with the smaller springbok in the background

Gemsbok antelope with the smaller springbok in the background

So majestic

So majestic

 

Young zebra dashing into the road!

Young zebra dashing into the road!

More zebra

More zebra

Just seeing the sign was exciting despite not seeing the real thing

Just seeing the sign was exciting despite not seeing the real thing

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Too beautiful

Windmills are a frequent sight in the country

Windmills are a frequent sight in the country

In the late afternoon we finally reached the entrance to Sossusvlei. Just in time for sunset. We parked the car and started running up the mountain of a dune. It reminded me of when I was mountaineering in the North Cascades last spring and we had to “kick steps” in the snow as we climbed up a mountain, forming something similar to a staircase so it was easier to hike. However, kicking steps in the sand proved to be much more difficult as the sand does not retain its form like snow does when you pack it down. In my sandals I could feel the soft, cold sand running over my toes. Once we reached the top, the sun had already set but the lighting was amazing. I looked out onto the plains below and was in awe.

Sunset over the plains

Sunset over the plains

 

Casey at the top of the dune

Casey at the top of the dune

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We planned to wake up early the next morning to catch the sunrise over the dunes. We were first in line at the gate to the 60 km tar road that ends in a 4×4 lover’s paradise with thick, deep sand to play around in. We were able to catch a ride on a jeep that could handle the rough terrain better than our Polo. The rest of the trek was to be done on foot. A passenger in the jeep who was familiar with the area told us to “climb up that dune over there and then go down to Dead Vlei. We’ll meet you back here in an hour.” We weren’t really sure what he was talking about and what the heck is the Dead Vlei? I saw some people on a dune up ahead and decided to hike up the one with people on it. Another passenger named Gui tagged along with us. Gui was a French gentleman who had rode his bicycle to Sossuvlei all the way from Johannesburg! I started talking to him about what routes were best to take.

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Driving by massive dunes

 

 

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Springbok amonst the dunes

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Just walking on top of a sand dune

View from the top

View from the top

We soon found out what Dead Vlei is. It is a clay pan where water once existed. Now that it has dried up, the trees that were living there are dead as there is no water to enable them to survive. It was a bit eerie looking when we walked amongst the dead trees.

That's Dead Vlei down there

That’s Dead Vlei down there

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Cracked white clay

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Sand blew into my camera lens so they wouldn't open all the way. I thought the effect was cool.

Sand blew into my camera lens so they wouldn’t open all the way. I thought the effect was cool.

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Another dune

Being able to catch both the sunset and the sunrise over the dunes was quite a treat. The way the wind swept the sand to form these unique shaped dunes was fascinating and the early morning shadows made for great photos.

The rest of the trip was a great deal of driving on mostly gravel backcountry roads, sleeping out under the stars every night, passing through the teeniest tiniest towns, and enjoying the fresh air of the desert. Namibia was truly an amazing place that made me realize I miss being in the wilderness far from the hustle and bustle of the city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easter Road Trip

In a country where holidays are taken seriously, my friend Alanna and I decided to make the best use of a four day holiday weekend by escaping the city and hitting the road with a tent, sleeping bags, some homemade carrot bread, and a road map. Our only intention was to drive into the Karoo, a semi desert located east of Cape Town. Within an hour and a half of departing Cape Town we found ourselves surrounded by bushes, windmills and a view that stretched on endlessly. It was an enormous breath of fresh air. With gray skies moving past us, part of a rainbow soon emerged. The rainbow seemed to be painting itself across the sky as it gradually built its way from either side until it formed a full arch amongst the clouds.

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As we were driving along, we passed a sign for the town of Merweville. I remembered Lynn telling me about this small town in which “coloreds” and “whites” still live in segregation. With no destination in mind, Alanna and I decided to go check it out. As I was driving along and learning how to drive stick shift for the first time (on the wrong side of the road as well), the road changed from pavement to hard-packed gravel. Because it had just rained, the road was covered with large puddles. I slowed down at the first puddle, not sure of how deep it was and jokingly scared that hippos were swimming beneath the surface. Of course I stalled right there. Luckily the ground was hard and the car didn’t sink. We continued on the road for another 15 miles or so not passing any cars. As we were coming down a large hill we could see the community in the distance. The town was very quiet as we drove through curiously. We crossed a bridge over a dry river bed and discovered the “colored” settlement on the other side. Each side has its own primary school and there is very little integration.

Although apartheid legally ended in 1994, the scars vividly remain. This has been evident while living in the suburbs of Cape Town and visiting the townships on bicycle where no white people live. But it was interesting to get outside of Cape Town and into the country and see how the effects of apartheid lasted there. Almost every town we passed through, we could find the township on the outskirts of the town.

Township

Township

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Merweville Township

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Small bakery run out of a home in Merweville

While in Merweville we camped in the backyard of a guesthouse to save money. The couple running the guest house were very sweet.

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Jack, the owner of the guesthouse, and Alanna in front of his property

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Crushed cans framing the window, now rusting

Our drive over the weekend afforded us a variety of views. After the desert we found ourselves driving by grape and olive farms, through mountain passes, into a wet forested landscape, along the coast, and then back into the desert in an area called the Little Karoo. South Africa, beloved country!

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Swartberg Pass

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the middle of nowhere

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Tradouw’s Pass

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Camping at Wild Farm

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View of the farm

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Waterfall at Wilderness National Park

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Crossing the river in Wilderness

Internship is now over — more updates on that to come later. For now, work is over and play has begun. Time for adventuring South African style! Stay posted :)

 

 

 

 

“Writing” on Bikes

After speaking with my friend Eddie about how much money he spends on a taxi bus to get to and from work each day, I asked him if he would consider riding a bicycle if he had one. He exclaimed that he would love to bicycle to work because he would get exercise and wouldn’t have to waste time waiting for a taxi. He figured it would save him 500 rand per month. I told him we must figure out a plan to get him a bicycle. At our weekly staff meeting at BEN, I asked if we donate bicycles to people who request them. I was informed that the person must write a letter requesting the donation. After work I headed down to Kalk Bay to help Eddie compose the letter. I told him what points should go into the letter while he put everything in his own words. While Eddie was writing the letter, my young friend Pleiades came over and asked if he could write a letter as well. Unfortunately many of the bicycles in storage at BEN are too big for a nine year old, but I told him it’s worth a shot. He excitedly sat down with my backpack on and began writing his own letter. As he looked to me to help him write the letter, I asked him questions to get him thinking. I asked him what he would use the bicycle for, how he would take care of it, where he would go with, why he likes biking, etc. Everyday since he wrote the letter, he has asked me if the BEN staff liked his letter and when he will be getting the bike. Hopefully I can get him and Eddie riding on bikes soon!

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What a cutie.

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I let him borrow the bicycle I have been using

Township Bicycle Tour

Last week I tagged along on a tour of the township Vryground with six Connecticut College professors who are in Cape Town learning about environmental justice. The tour was led by Lief Petersen of the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation (SLF), a non-profit organization that works to eliminate poverty by conducting research on the challenges of informal trade in the townships. In order to best interact with the owners of the informal businesses, such as shebeens (bars), spaza shops (small grocers), and traditional healers, it was best to use bicycles as our means of getting around because we were much more approachable. As we rode through the formal township of Capricorn, people greeted us on the streets with smiles and waves. We stopped at a large opening where someone in the foreground was burning trash and in the background we could see a large hill where one of Cape Town’s largest rubbish piles exists, the Coastal Landfill. Many of the inhabitants of the township go there to make a risky living called “skarreling” by sifting through the trash for scrap. Everyday around 250 people from the township go to the dump to make a living. We then visited one of the traditional healers that SLF has been interviewing. His name is Mr. GoBurn and he is from Malawi. Many black South Africans go to traditional healers to retrieve medicine for stress-related problems that Westerners would seek a psychologist for, such as a man whose girlfriend doesn’t love him anymore.

View of the Coastal Landfill in the background

View of the Coastal Landfill in the background

Traditional healer

Traditional healer

Dr. GoBurn and all of his traditional medicine

Dr. GoBurn and all of his traditional medicine

As we continued onward we entered the slum of Overview Heights where shacks are abundant, formal eletricity does not exist, and porta-toilets have been installed. There is one gravel road going through the middle of the slum. When we came out on the other side we were in the formal settlement of Seawinds where a rastafarian named Neville lives. Neville has established a large, beautiful garden on his property and is growing herbs to sell to people as medicine. Him and Lief are working together to create a community garden for the residents. Many rastafarians go to the mountain to pick wild herbs that can be sold as traditional medicines. However, the mountain is part of the national park and is therefore protected. The illegal harvesting of wild plants is a concern to conservationists because many of the natural plants are endangered or vulnerable. However, the sale of these herbs provides a living for many rastafarians who are kept out of the formal economy. It is a goal of the SLF to establish indigenous nurseries on non-protected land that can serve the economic and traditional needs of the rastafarians.

Neville's garden

Neville’s garden

Neville explaining the herbs outside the garden that are free for grabs

Neville explaining the herbs outside the garden that are free for grabs

 

Neville explaining how the plants are used to treat ailments

Neville explaining how the plants are used to treat ailments

Other gardens have been springing up as well

Other gardens have been springing up as well

Hiking Turned Caving Expedition

I have had the great pleasure of becoming acquainted with a lovely family of Zimbabwean artists in Kalk Bay who sell small and large figurines out of wire and beads. They have been teaching me how to make the figurines as well as speak their native language of Shona. I’ve been working on a sheep, or hwai in Shona (pronounced “why”), and really enjoy using my hands while conversing with my new friends in Shon-glish. A few days a week after work I ride down to visit them at the space they have set up outside of Olympia Bakery. Venie, the entreprenuer who runs the business, recently had a beautiful wooden box made to easily transport and display his artwork. He will be starting up a workshop in his front yard to teach young children how to make the art.

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the “coffin” that will be used to display Venie’s artwork

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Abisha (left) and Eddie teaching me their skills

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Making a “hwai”

Venie recently invited me on a group hike up the mountain behind Kalk Bay. His children, Orion and Plades, excitedly told me about a cave which goes from one side of the mountain to the other. The name of the cave is Boomslang which is also the name of a venomous snake native to sub-Saharan Africa. The title rightly suits the cave as the entrance is 20 meters of narrow, claustrophobic winding and bending before it opens up into a large space. Eager to explore the mountain and cave, I invited a couple of friends I recently met and we convened with the group of varying ages outside Venie’s house on a Saturday morning.

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The view across False Bay on the way up

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A boardwalk took us through this native forest of milkwood trees and large boulders

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Orion striking a pose on top of the mountain

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Here we are in the “amphitheatre”

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Such great camaraderie

My two friends and I were prepared to explore the dark cave with a head torch for each of us and an extra hand torch. However, turns out the rest of the group was not planning on caving. With a couple of cell phone lights and the torches we brought along, the group decided to do it anyways. Our strategy: one light for every other person. After giggling our way through the snaking entrance on elbows and knees, we arrived in the middle of the cave where we could stand. There were many tunnels to explore as we all groped our way down one of the selected tunnels. Having to return to the crawling position, we helped each other along through the darkness. We soon realized, after a short debate, that we had returned to the initial opening. Our route had taken us for a loop! So we headed down another path, trying to stay together and not lose anyone in the maze of tunnels. As we headed deeper into the interior of the cave, we soon heard the squeaking sounds of bats. We hushed up and tip-toed through this section so as not to disturb the bats with our voices. We soon came upon the exit where we were blinded by the bright light flooding into the cave. We enjoyed the bird’s eye view of the coastal town of Fish Hoek before heading back into the cave.

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Little Oliver John and Plades about to enter the cave

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Exploring inside the cave

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Coming out the other side of the cave where we can see the town of Fish Hoek

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Looking down on Fish Hoek

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We all survived!