During our trip, many of our favorite travel experiences have transpired not because we planned it all out, but because we happened to be in the right spot at the right time. Many months ago, we got to watch the Leonid Meteor shower from a mountaintop overlooking a small town deep in the northern mountains of Thailand. Suffice to say, we didn't even know the meteor shower was taking place until the day before. Likewise, we had the great, good fortune to be in Durban, South Africa on July 9th, 2002 and got to attend the launch of the new African Union. The leaders of nearly all of the African nations gathered together to dissolve their former alliance, The Organization for African Unity, and to create the new African Union styled, in large part, after the United Nations. Like the UN, the AU will feature a Security Council with the power to militarily intervene in a state's affairs if a situation threatens the stability of surrounding countries or violates the human rights of that state's citizens. It's not surprising that not everyone likes this feature.
Durban, set in the heart of KwaZulu Natal Province or "Zululand," faced the challenge of hosting and providing security for all those dignitaries and accommodating a huge influx of people from around the country who came to enjoy the festivities. The stadium where the launch was held was packed. A large portion of the crowd appeared to be local people of Zulu origin, who enthusiastically and vocally supported the ANC. When Nelson Mandela entered the stadium, the roar from the crowd drowned out the voice on the loud speaker (he seemed to be in the entourage of heads of state as an elder statesman of the continent). Several of the heads of state who followed Mandela had to forego the privilege of hearing their name announced as they entered. The crowd waved ANC flags, chanted ANC slogans and called out "Madiba, Madiba," the Xhosa tribe from which Mandela comes and a title of affection and respect for Mandela.
Some of the attendees showed little interest in the events on the field. Instead, the danced through the halls and up and down the pedestrian ramps of the stadium singing and chanting – groups of men clad in the traditional Zulu dress of animal skins, spears and shields, groups of women with drums and umbrellas. Later, a large group of Zulu men and women, traditionally dressed, took to the field and performed an age old song and dance of "Homage to the King" for all the heads of state gathered on the dais.
Certainly, we enjoyed the festivities, but likewise, we cherished the opportunity to hear the speeches, some by the Presidents of the countries was had recently visited. Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya spoke on behalf of East Africa while Thabo Mbeki of South Africa spoke on behalf of Southern Africa (the AU relies on a geographical division of Africa into five regions – South, Central, East, West and North). Looking just beyond the podium, we could see Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe and one of the current “issues” with which the new AU must deal. Sitting right next to him was the very charismatic General Quadaffi of Libya, the man people fear will upstage the AU Secretary General Thabo Mbeki and/or derail the development of the new agency. But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Our flight from Bombay to Kenya left at 3:00 a.m. depositing us in Nairobi at 6:00 a.m. exhausted, clueless and, unfortunately, a little sick (K had bacterial dysentery and an ear infection). We probably should have developed a bit more of a plan while lounging on the beaches of Goa, but oops... we didn't. We arrived in Nairobi with only a faint idea about where we wanted to go or what we wanted to do. After wandering around in circles for four days and making several visits to the doctor, we finally booked a 7 day safari to an array of Kenyan parks north and northeast of Nairobi in the Great Rift Valley. We opted out of going to the very popular Masai Mara because we planned to visit the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, which connects to the Masai Mara on the other side of the Tanzanian border.
Having spent two months in a “rupee” state of mind, it took us a while to adjust to the considerably higher prices of Nairobi. More money bought us less attractive lodging and far less appetizing food. On top of that, crime is a serious issue in Nairobi (locals like to call it "Nairobbery") and we were advised not to be out after dark unless we took taxis, the prices of which approached the prices of taxis in New York City. Despite a couple of underhanded attempts by people to separate us from our money, we survived without incident. A boy made a weak attempt to snatch J’s bag while we were walking through one of the daily torrential downpour. A con man tried to get us to buy him a liter of petrol by saying, "Remember me? I work in your hotel. I've just run out of gas... yadda, yadda, yadda." We almost fell for it.
The darker side of our anecdotes about crime is the reality of street children in Nairobi. By some estimates, around 200,000 children live on the streets in Nairobi, a city of 1.1 million. Children follow you around begging for money, "Please, I'm so hungry." It's totally heart breaking, but the guide book and the local nonprofits urge you not to give money, food or anything. There seem to be several local organizations focused on addressing this issue, to what end we could not tell. They extol foreigners to resist giving out money because the handouts only made the situation worse. It’s a grim situation. Many of the children are AIDS orphans. Many of them are addicted to sniffing glue, supplied by street side cobblers, who operate their businesses on the sidewalks of the city.
While we can not claim to have sampled all that Nairobi has to offer, we did develop an antipathy to the place and couldn’t wait to leave town. We set off into the Great Rift Valley area in a Landrover with our guide Simon who works for "Planet Safari." Just an hour outside of Nairobi, we began our descent into the Valley. As we came over the edge of the escarpment, we saw the Valley open up before us.
The Great Rift Valley runs from the Middle East down through the center of Africa. It is where Richard and Mary Leakey uncovered extensive archeological evidence of early man. Tall escarpments edge the valley along most of its stretch through Africa. Many areas of the Valley reminded us of southwestern American mesa land. The valley is dotted with both salt and fresh water lakes, Lake Victoria being one of the largest and the point of origin for the Nile river.
The salt water lakes host huge populations of greater and lesser flamingoes, so many that they make the lake appear pink from a distance. The fresh water lakes support hippos, crocodiles, and African fish eagles. While aspects of the landscape reminded us of the American southwest, the flora and fauna certainly struck us as novel and exciting. The majority of trees are tall, flat-crowned or short and bushy varieties of Acacia, thick-trunked Boababs or candelabra-looking Euphorbia trees. As we entered the parks, we feasted our eyes on herds of zebra, families of giraffe or groups of elephants walking in the fields alongside the road.
We managed to see most of the African game animals on our safari in Kenya, but the leopard eluded our eye. We did have the gory pleasure of watching four cheetahs eat an impala they had just killed. They thrust their heads into the impalas torn belly. Each time they looked up at us, their faces were covered in blood. The lions we saw were busy eating a zebra... one of them was jogging to and fro with the zebra leg in her mouth. We imagined that the big cats posed the greatest danger to us, but we quickly learned differently. In Samburu Park, a male elephant repeatedly charged our vehicle with his head swaying, ears flapping, trunk trumpeting and legs kicking out behind him. Our driver jammed the land rover in reverse only to back into a ditch, eliminating a backward escape. Fortunately, the angry elephant cooled off and sulked off. It was fairly scary.
A true highlight was our visit to Lamu Island off the coast of Kenya. (Thanks to all those of you who insisted we go.)
Lamu is one of the oldest towns in East Africa. It is a small, island village, rich in Swahili culture and strongly influenced by the Persian traders of days past. It has winding streets filled with ladies in black bui bui (burkas), covered from head to toe darting in and out of doorways. There are no cars on the island, so men ride donkeys to work or just around town. It was probably one of the friendliest and most interesting places we've been so far.
Getting there was a serious effort though. Unfortunately, the Lonely Planet advised against traveling overland up the Kenyan coast (particularly between Malindi and Lamu). It seems that the conflict in Somalia has resulted in an influx of small arms into northern Kenya. This has fuelled armed banditry. Armed bandits have attacked buses along the coast multiple times over the last few years, usually robbing everyone. One time, however, the bandits made everyone strip and lie naked on the road. We asked around a lot and got different reports. Some people said that the problem was fixed. Others said, "Don't do it." We considered flying, but it proved too expensive. Anyway, we had some people to visit in Mombasa and went there. We asked about the overland route in Mombasa and got a definitive answer from an ex-pat who said that the problem had been addressed. So, we bought tickets and headed up the coast.
We were late in buying our tickets, so ended up near the back of the bus. After months of budget travel in the developing world, we have learned not to sit in the back of the bus since you feel every jolt and bump that much more and it really mattered for the road to Lamu. With Kevin's knees grinding against the seat in front of him (very tight seats), we got jostled and tossed around like mad. It was so bad that two local women began screaming and complaining and got moved to the front of the bus. (The guide book says, "If the locals look worried, you should worry too." It offered no advice about what to do if the locals were screaming.) Part of the road had been washed away in recent flooding and the bus had to ford a river of water on our way north.
At one point along the way soldiers boarded our bus, which we figured out was the "fix" to the banditry problem. But it wasn't really the banditry that people should have warned us about. While we were in Lamu, heavy rains fell upcountry. The deluge of water washed out more of the road, making the swath of water un-fordable. On our way back to Mombassa, we got to take our first "bus-to-dugout canoe-to-bus" trip of our lives. It was quite an experience. We wish we took a picture, but weren’t willing to dig out the camera.
Overall, Kenyan politics appeared to us as troubled, but not without hope. Kenya faces an election and will bade farewell to Daniel Arap Moi. Depending who you talk with, you get different opinions about Moi. Based on our limited sampling, it would be an understatement to say he is unpopular with people from the Kikuyu tribe. Many blamed Moi directly for inciting the violence of the early nineties that shook the country. Many are skeptical that an honest candidate will emerge, others are hopeful. The biggest problem seems to be that each tribe is loyal to the candidate from his or her tribe. This makes it difficult to find a successor to President Moi that will get enough support to win December's election. Also, some think Moi is handpicking the son of Jomo Kenyatta. It will be interesting to see how the elections go.
We took a three-day safari in the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater. It was beautiful! The Serengeti is immense and heaving with wildlife. The park is the size of Connecticut and supports enormous herds of wildebeests and zebras that migrate hundreds of miles up into Kenya and back every year. We stood on a rocky outcrop and were able to see 360 degrees of wide open grasslands covered with millions of wildebeests and zebras. We also went to the Olduvai Gorge (supposed to be correctly spelled and pronounced "Oldupai") where the Leakeys found Austrolopithicus bolsei (1.75 million years old), homo habilis (1.5 million years old) and a set of fossilized footprints made by Homo Afrensis about 3.7 million years ago.
It is the motherland indeed.
We are ALL from Africa.
Entrance to Serengeti National Park
At the Ngorongoro Crater
It was particularly amazing to see the Masai people on the Serengeti plains.
They are not considered citizens of Kenya or Tanzania because they migrate between the two. They are not obliged to follow the laws of either nation and still follow the laws of their chiefs. They also often still dress in their traditional tribal dress. Men wear red woolen blankets around their bodies and another around their shoulders. Their legs and wrists are adorned with beaded bands. They dye their hair red for style and wear headresses made of beads. They usually walk carrying a stick because they live amongst the wild animals of that area. We saw many adolescent boys participating in a rite of passage towards manhood according to which they have to dress in black, paint their faces white and stay out in the bush all day.
We came across these boys standing by the side of the road looking sort of like skeletons with their elaborate white face paint and otherwise black clothes. Apparently they used to have to kill a lion before they could marry, but this practice has been banned. The women wear blue colored blankets and sew beads to flat rings of leather that they wear around their necks. They also pierce the tops of their ears and hang beaded earrings from them. Some men and women have large holes in their lower ear lobes so they can wear an ornament more closely resembling a plug than an earring. The ornament fills the entire hole in the lobe. Sometimes the lobes are empty and just swing much lower than normal because of how stretched they are. Most of the Masai houses are made from sticks and a mixture of earth, dung and anthill. These huts are arranged in a circle with all the doorways facing the center. The entire village is surrounded by a thick hedge of brambles that keeps wild animals out, while keeping goat and cattle inside.
The houses are divided into rooms for the people, a room for the young goat kids, one for the calves and sometimes one for prized, full-grown animals. The Masai people living in the Ngorogoro Conservation Area must walk great distances for water and otherwise struggle to survive on the endless, expansive plains of the Serengeti. Tanzanians make fun of the Masai in the same, light-hearted way that Georgians make fun of people from Alabama or New Yorkers make fun of people from New Jersey. It seems ridiculous though, we can't imagine any city folk from Tanzania surviving a night alone in the Serengeti, but that's how the Masai live.
Zanzibar proved a great highlight of Tanzania.
We visited the main island in the Zanzibar archipelago, called Unguja. While Unguja dwarfs Lamu and boasts a considerable tourists infrastructure, it still retains many elements of the Muslim coastal East African culture that enchanted us so much in Lamu. We spent a few days wandering the streets and alleyways of Stonetown (or Zanzibar town). Stonetown boasts a few fairly wide, well-paved streets (certainly compared to Lamu) but consists mainly of small, winding alleyways crowded with houses and shops.
Women in "bui bui" (burkas) and men in prayer caps and long robes walked through the streets on their way to work, school or the markets. Ancient looking dhows (traditional Arab sailboats) plied the water offshore. We loved walking along the waterfront in Stonetown, where locals set up seafood stalls each night. We walked the gauntlet of tables and surveyed the piles of skewered, seafood kebabs and roti-like breads. It proved the best dinner deal in town. The kebabs ran about seventy five cents each and were delicious.
One of our days in Zanzibar, we went out on a boat to try to "swim with the dolphins," only to find that they weren't in the mood to play. Consequently, we spent our time swimming toward them as they swam away. At least we saw them, though we have to admit that we had higher expectations (i.e. actually swimming with them as advertised), but it was a lovely boat trip. The water around the island is clear and aqua blue. You can see straight to the bottom. We did a bit of snorkeling and enjoyed the fellowship of the other travelers on the trip.
The next day, we went on the renowned "Mr. Mitu's Spice Tour" and explored the spice farms and forests of Unguja tasting various spices and fruits right off the plant. The fruit of the cocoa plant is fleshy and tastes great… who knew?
Kaya tries a "shoke shoke."
We spent our last few days on Unguja at one of the northern beaches called Kendwa.
It sat far apart from the small tourist town on the northern end of the island, so it was quiet and beautiful. The guesthouse where we stayed (all of 4 bungalows) set up the dinner tables right along the surf each night and decorated them with banana leaves, flowers and candles. They dug pits in the sand and placed candles in each one so that the beach glowed with candlelight. Dinner consisted of the catch of the day, freshly grilled. It was absolute bliss. J wanted to stay for a month.
Like the culture in so many places in the world, East African culture appeared to us a unique blend of traditional, local culture and western/modern ubiquitous culture. For instance, many women in East Africa wear "Khangas," which are wildly colorful printed cotton sarongs - one around the body and one wrapped around the head or worn like a shawl. Both pieces match and are often worn on top of another outfit, usually a western-style dress. Most of the men wear western-style clothes if they are not sporting traditional Muslim prayer style clothing.
Some of the western style clothing we saw cracked us up. There is a huge market in used clothes from western countries in East Africa. Donated clothes from the U.S. and Europe are sold in street markets everywhere. Consequently, we met many Africans wearing shirts that say things like "Melissa's Bat Mitzvah, 1996" or "Arkansas State Women's Bowling Championships, 1992." Often, you couldn’t help smile at the disjunction between the shirt and the wearer. One traveler told us about meeting a man wearing an oversized t-shirt that read "Bun in the oven." (It even had an arrow pointing downwards.) She told him what the shirt actually meant and apparently he was not happy. He'd been wearing the shirt for years.
With a little over three months to travel in Africa, we were startled and surprised when six weeks had passed and we found ourselves still in Tanzania. There remained 5,000 km of Africa between us and Cape Town and we despaired about our ability to reach our destination before our flight took off. We decided to pick up our pace. We hopped a bus from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania straight to a town close to the Malawi border. The next leg of the journey to Mzuzu, Malawi required riding a string of cramped, broken down mini vans, sorry buses and one flatbed truck throughout the day and into the night. (Let it be known that it gets downright cold in the mountains of Malawi and flatbed trucks should not be ridden after dark).
We rested a couple of days at Nkhata Bay on Lake Malawi, the vast inland, fresh-water lake that makes up almost the entire eastern border of Malawi. It’s a lot like the great lakes in the U.S.
We then barreled on to Lilongwe, the capital, and then, with one day of break, straight through Zambia to Livingstone, close to Victoria Falls on the Zambian side. As we moved from East Africa to Southern Africa, we were struck by what appeared to be the “whitening” of the tourist infrastructure. While the tourist infrastructure, particularly for budget travelers or backpackers, had been black-owned and operated in East Africa, it was almost exclusively white-owned and operated in Southern Africa. Contemporary issues of race seemed more and more “alive” as we traveled south. We’ll say more about that later.
Victoria Falls proved to be one tourist attraction that lived up to the hype. The falls inspire awe. The wide, shallow, powerful upper Zambezi River flows over one entire edge of long, narrow gorge. The crest of the falls stretches for more than mile. Five hundred billion liters of water per minute plummet over a cliff into the deep gorge below, forcing a thick, surging, misty spray high up into the sky, causing permanent localized rainstorms and sparking rainbows everywhere you looked. At the bottom of the gorge, all the water funnels out through a thin opening into the narrow, deep riverbed of the lower Zambezi. Despite our raincoats and umbrellas, we got soaked to the bone within seconds, all the while laughing with delight.
Thanks to the advice of our friends Sean and Allison, we spent a few days on an island in the upper Zambezi called Bovu Island. It is a small island with only a few thatched roof buildings and a handful of huts for guests. The people working on the island are a blend of young, white folks from all around (South Africa, Scotland, etc) and local black Africans from a small, rural village on the riverbank across from the island.
One of the local men who worked at Bovu, George, took us for a walk through the village. Most of the buildings were constructed of sticks, thatch and mud. Women cooked maize meal in saucepans over open fires with sleeping babies strapped to their backs, while the older children ran about and played games. George took us by the hut where the local beer, or chibuku, is brewed. Speakers out front of the hut blared Zairian music, letting the community know that the beer was ready. A few yards away a local man looked well on his way through enjoying a bottle. We stopped to talk to four of the wives of one of the local men and all of their children. The women asked K why he didn't take another wife and laughed like crazy when J made possessive gestures ("mine, mine") and when K told them that one woman was enough.
On our last night on Bovu Island, the locals threw us a party. We ate a traditional Zambian meal of chicken in a curry sauce, maize meal and greens. For dessert we gobbled down a maize porridge cooked in milk and sugar. We ate on grass mats on the floor of a hut. After dinner, the men of the village warmed their drums by the campfire and the women of the village organized themselves to sing. Once the drumming and singing began, the chibuku started flowing. Soon everyone was dancing and singing under the star filled sky. The villagers outlasted us by a long shot. We retired around 11:00, while the party raged on until 3:00 a.m. We could hear the sound of the drums from our hut at the river’s edge as we fell asleep.
Originally, we were planning on going to Botswana from Zambia, but we met other travelers that enjoyed traveling in Zimbabwe. As a result, we turned “left” and crossed the border at Victoria Falls into Zimbabwe. After a brief visit to the town of Victoria Falls and an overnight train ride in a lovely old, wood paneled train car (imprinted everywhere with “RR” for the old Rhodesian Railroad), we made our way to the Antelope Park in Gweru Zimbabwe.
Antelope Park operates a lion breeding program to ensure a strong gene pool for wild lions which are suffering from TB, distemper and other diseases. In order to fund the breeding program, Antelope Park started a program through which visitors can "Walk with the Lions." You walk through the bush with lion cubs from 6-18 months old.
We went on one walk with two 6 month old females and another walk with two 9 month old males. One of the 9 month olds snuck up behind K and playfully bit him in the behind and tried to wrestle him to the ground. He wasn't hurt - it was very gentle - but you're not supposed to let them sneak up on you as they find it fun to catch you off guard and knock you down or give you a little nip. Despite their cuteness, you cannot play with them. They are simply too strong and will hurt you unintentionally. We also got to bottle feed baby lion cubs that were only six weeks old.
They would lay in our lap and stare up at us with their huge eyes and long eyelashes as they sucked furiously at the bottle. They were very cute, but also stank of old meat! Still, it was a unique and incredible experience.
We doubled-back to Bulawayo and spent several days there, visiting Matopos.
Mother & Child, Matopos
San Art, Matopos
Darwin Award for us, Matopos
After Matopos, we made our way east across the country to see the ruins of "Great Zimbabwe," outside of Masvingo.
Great Zimbabwe is the ruins of an ancient and prosperous Shona kingdom that controlled much of interior southeast Africa for nearly two centuries. Built between the 12th and 15th century, the huge, mortar-less stone structures fire your imagination about days gone by.
You may have heard a lot in the news over the last year or so about forced land reform in Zimbabwe, by which white-owned farms are being taken over, subdivided and allocated to landless black Zimbaweans. In some cases, white farmers have been killed. Our experience visiting Zimbabwe exposed us to a range of views about this complicated and complex situation. A host of international leaders (particularly Tony Blair of the UK) and the international press have criticized Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe for his "dictatorial" and undemocratic practices in running the country. Mugabe has largely suspended freedom of the press and many accuse the government of serious corruption. Additionally, the currency appears to be in freefall. Not long ago, the Zimbabwe Dollar traded at a rate of around 50 Zim$ to the US dollar. At the point in time when we left Zimbabwe, the rate was about 600 Zim$ per US dollar. None of the surrounding countries will accept or exchange the Zim Dollar because it is so devalued. Mugabe´s government insists on an official exchange rate of 55 Zim$ to 1 U.S. This is the rate offered at any bank in Zimbabwe, but the bureau de change places (the so-called "parallel market") offer anywhere from 500-650. As you might imagine, this discrepancy reflects serious economic distress. Entire industries were folding. For example, the tobacco industry was on the verge of collapse because the government insisted that tobacco farmers sell their product only to the government at a price of 200 Zim$ per kilo (based on the 55=1 rate) despite the fact that the growing of tobacco required foreign inputs which had to be purchased with foreign currency. As a result, tobacco farmers were selling a kilo of tobacco for 200 Zim$ which cost them around 500 Zim$ to grow. One by one they were declaring bankruptcy. During our visit, very few people could purchase sugar, maize meal, or cooking oil. Many large farms had already ceased production (according to the dictates of the land reform legislation) and the deadline by which all white farmers must leave their land was quickly approaching (and has now passed). All this drama played out before a backdrop of looming famine throughout rural Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi due to poor harvests.
On the surface, it did appear as though Mugabe was running Zimbabwe into the ground. However, some people offered us a different take on the situation, one that at least complicated the picture. Apparently, since the liberation of Zimbabwe from white minority rule in 1980, Mugabe has been trying to fulfill the dream of the revolution and deliver land reform to the people of Zimbabwe. Since it's colonization, nearly all of the productive, arable land in Zimbabwe has been owned by less than 5% of the country's population all of whom are white. Land reform stood out as one of the primary reasons people fought and died for the liberation of "Zimbabwe" then Rhodesia). For years, Mugabe has been trying to work with Western governments (primarily Great Britain) and the wealthy landowners in Zimbabwe to achieve this, but to no avail. Some say that he waited, accommodated, and placated far longer than any statesman should be required. People of this opinion reckon that the west and the wealthy elite in Zimbabwe bear greater responsibility for the drastic land reform measures taking place now than does Mugabe. Some believe the international media has come down unfairly on him. On the other end of the spectrum, the white Zimbabweans that we met were filled with bitterness and hatred for the Mugabe government. Most of their families had already left Zimbabwe and they were disappointed that they were going to have to emigrate as well, that is as soon as they could scrape together enough foreign currency to leave. Black Zimbabweans that we met seemed more hopeful though worried deeply about the economy. They did tend to think that there was corruption in the government, but they didn't seem to think it was completely corrupt. They hoped that Zimbabwe would emerge from it's current troubles with a solution that was wholly African in origin and different from the western ideas of development and success.
South Africa is the most developed country we have visited in our ten months. The country overall reminds us a lot of the United States. Parts of it even look quite a lot like California: hilly, expansive and relatively treeless on the interior, with a sandy and rocky coast featuring tall cliffs interspersed with long white beaches. Even bits of South African culture reminded us of America. South Africans love to "braii" (barbeque) and are SERIOUS about their meat... (sound familiar?) That said, South Africans braii a range of meats we don´t get in the US. We can report that BBQ'd ostrich is darned good. (Apologies to our vegetarian readers.) We do have to take a pot shot at the South African radio stations though. South African radio seems to ONLY play cheesy music. It would be one thing if they were playing the Lionel Richie and Bryan Adams ORIGINALS, but no. Instead you get Lionel Richie and Bryan Adams re-makes. Someone told us that this stems from the fact that Apartheid-era sanctions prevented South Africa from importing Western music. It could also be that those who controlled such businesses didn't import it because they sought to keep their culture separate and distinct, as many Afrikaners sought to do. However, they SHOULD have imported it because "Once, Twice, Three Times A Lady," was only meant to be recorded the one time! We couldn't believe it when we heard "Come On Baby Light My Fire” lounge-music style.
We began our visit to South Africa in Pretoria, where we visited K's college friend Nonkonzo and her family. Nonkonzo works for the department of health and it was interesting to talk with her about the "New South Africa" emerging as a post Apartheid nation. While we were with Nonkonzo, she received the sad news that her grandmother had passed away. We went with her to the funeral in the township of Sobantu outside of Pietermaritzburg, where Nonkonzo grew up. There we met both of Nonkonzo's parents and many of her family members. A particular aspect of the funeral alarmed us. The graveyard was crowded with new graves and there were at least ten other funerals happening at the same time. One of Nonkonzo's relatives told us that, in this relatively small township, there were at least that many funerals each weekend due to the AIDS epidemic in the country. Sobering. At the party afterward, we talked for a long time with Nonkonzo´s husband, who spent many years in exile during the apartheid regime and her father, who spent more than a decade imprisoned on Robben Island for his work with the African National Congress. They told us about their experience of life under the apartheid regime and the tactics of the apartheid-era security forces. Also very sobering.
We rented a car in South Africa, which made traveling easy and permitted us a lot of freedom to explore. We made a special trip to a small town near East London activist to visit the grave of Bantu Stephen Biko, the renowned student/black power that was killed in prison in 1977 while imprisoned for his political activity.
It proved difficult to find. We were driving in circles through the nearby township asking people for directions. Since the people we asked only spoke Afrikaans, we weren't getting anywhere. Finally, we picked up three teenaged girls that were hitching a ride to town. Instead of just telling us the way to the cemetery, they decided they would come with us and then get dropped off into town. When we finally found the modest grave and stood quietly beside it, one of the girls asked us if we would tell Biko's story. She didn't know who he was or what he had contributed to the country. We wondered if that was a good thing or a bad thing, her not knowing... and how strange it seemed to us for tourists from America to tell her....
In touring the natural wonders of South Africa we can report on the beauty of rivers, canyons,
marine estuaries, rolling wine vineyards, cliff hikes overlooking the ocean, and bays filled with seals, dolphins or breaching Southern Right Whales.
Blyde River Canyon
The Three Rondavels
Bourke's Luck Pot Holes
The South African coast makes a fine vacation destination.
St. Lucia Wetlands
Durban, South Africa
Robberg Penninsula, Pletenberg Bay
Wilderness, South Africa
DeHoop National Park, South Africa
J´s mother and her friend Vickie visited us for 5 days in Cape Town and we had a great time visiting Robben Island, Cape Point and the winelands. Bonnie (J´s mom) and Vickie spent about 12 days on much fancier safaris than we took. They drank expensive wine, ate gourmet meals and got facials in the bush. We enjoyed teasing them by saying, "Times are hard in the bush!"
Cape Town Waterfront
Table Mountain, Capte Town
Nelson Mandela's Cell at Robben Island
Cape of Good Hope
From Cape Town, we spent a week visiting K´s sister Sheila and her family in Rennes, France. It is a lovely town in the heart of Brittany, an area of France filled with tourist attractions. However, with the exception of a day trip to Mount Ste. Michel, we spent most of the trip locked into quality family time.
From France we flew to New York for a two week “vacation” from the trip at K´s mom´s house. At the moment we are in Antigua, Guatemala enrolled in a four week Spanish Language course.
J and K