Tuesday, May 31, 2011

sketches from South Africa!

While on my trip I sketched a bit, I might color some of these digitally or play around with them some more.

I also got an illustrated book from a South African gift shop that is worth noting: Alphabet of Democracy by Anton Kannemeyer.

I picked up this book for the illustrations and I knew from the cover that it would be political in some way. The illustrations poke fun at South Africa's turbulent history

the illustrator and author Anton Kannemeyer is fairly famous in South Africa and created a famous comic called BitterKomix. Check him out!

South Africa!!

South Africa! part 2


After a very beautiful wedding and an extremely fun reception it was time to pack up and head up up to the city of Durban for a few days.

Durban is a city along South Africa's Eastern Cape and is a city by the sea. the city is also a fairly popular place for surfing. We spent our two days in Durban mostly strolling down the promenade by the ocean sampling different restaurants as we went. The experience of the city was very enjoyable, very different from Joburg as we all felt a bit safer walking the city streets.

One of our stops along the Promenade was a place called UShaka Marine World. At the Marine World you can do all sorts of aquarium related things and even go shark diving! We arrived at the entrance to UShaka and quickly had all our shark diving hopes dashed when we found out shark diving was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays! 

Nevertheless, we ate a lot of great food and saw some great ocean views from the city. Katie recommended we try a special type of Durbanesque food known as Bunny Chow. Basically it is something like curry stuffed inside of bread topped with more curry-it sounded very tasty but unfortunately we didn't get to try it.

The next leg of the trip meant we hopped onto another Mango airlines flight to Capetown! the parents hopped on a plane to Kruger National Park (JEALOUS!) where they went on a safari to see African animals! as for us children, we were headed to Capetown to explore the city, bungee jump, ride ostriches, and have other adventures!

We (Katie, Dani, Chaz, and I) arrived in the busy Capetown airport without any problems. The airport was the busiest we had been to so far but we were never heckled or accosted by anyone as we went to rent a car. Renting a car was a success! we got to drive a bit through the suburbs outside of Capetown and saw Table Mountain! 

The Hostel we stayed at in Capetown was very quaint and cozy after a good nights rest we packed up and headed out on a long road trip to go bungee jumping!

The Bloukrans bridge is a South African bridge that hosts the highest bridge bungy jump in the world! at 216 meters! (about 708 feet for the rest of us Americans). The roadtrip was mostly uneventful although driving past the South African scenery was very enjoyable. I briefly saw a mother baboon and her baby along the side of the road! the rule of law is obviously not to pull over to feed the baboons as they will try to steal everything out of your car and/or rip your face off.

7 hours in to the road trip and we were still an hour and a half away from the bridge, it was 3pm and the bungy closed at 5pm. Dani, with her keen bird eyes, spotted a 5 star-looking hotel along the side of the road in this tiny beach town called Wilderness. All four of us in the car agreed it was probably best to stop there for the night and so we booked the only rooms available: the honeymoon suite and a "premier" suite.

The rooms at the hotel were finer and fancier than anything that I have every stayed in in the US. Plus, they were fairly cheap! 1,000 Rand per person (about $160) seemed like a very good deal for a 5 star luxury hotel suite that in the US would cost $500 or more a night.

After spending a lovely evening at the hotel we set out for bungee jumping!

Let me tell you, bungee jumping from Bloukrans Bridge was the most extreme thing I have ever done in my life-it was my first time bungee jumping so I guess I started off with a bang! the experience was surreal: Once you have paid the fee to jump (about 700 Rand, 100 or so US dollars) a group of helpers strap you up in a harness and then lead you on this dusty narrow path surrounding by shrubbery to the bridge. Chaz and I were the only ones jumping and we had to cross a narrow suspended metal tunnel to get to the actual jump site underneath the bridge. The metal tunnel is made of this metal mesh material - I have no idea what it is called but it holds the weight of a group of full grown people and you are also able to see through it to the depths below. The experience of seemingly walking on air in the tunnel was a bit unnerving but the real nerves came when it was my time to jump (ladies first!)

I was tethered up to the bungee cord and my feet were secured VERY tightly by some enthusiastic and very nice dockies (deckhands/helpers). A few dockies/helpers were dancing around as I prepared to jump and the head dockie that was tightening my foot straps was trying to tell me a bunch of things but over the sound of the bridge, the music, and my own nerves I couldn't really understand him. All I asked was if I was strapped in tightly enough and they reassured me that I was perfectly fine. After hobbling over to the jump off point I took a few deep breaths before the dockies told me to stretch out my arms, hold my head high, count down from 5 and then JUMP!

I remember swan diving off the bridge and as I looked from the sky to the fast approaching ground below I recall not really feeling scared at all. Sure, my nerves were still there but for some reason it was  almost tranquil as I fell toward the ground. As my bungee cord caught the tension and I stopped falling I got the chance to take a look at the raging river and the forest below me - it was extremely strange and yet I felt completely fine. The only time I felt any fear was when I realized I could feel gravity pulling in my foot straps and it felt like I would fall if I moved my feet at all.

After  being hoisted up I got to witness Chaz jumping off. We stopped for a few pictures with the dockies and then it was back to the main area to get our photos and videos!

Driving away from the Bloukrans bridge we stopped by a small town called George with a small regional airport to let Dani and Katie off so they could fly back to Capetown. From there it was off to Outdshoorn to ride Ostriches!!!

We spent the night in Outdshoorn at a nice hotel named the Queens hotel. the hotel was 100 and some years old and had once been visited by Queen Elizabeth when she was in her 20's or so. Fancy that, I dare say!

The next day we drove a few km outside of the town to an Ostrich farm called Highgate. The news on the street was that this place was the best place to see and ride ostriches but unfortunately we received terrible news once we arrived at the gates. Apparently, all the ostriches at this farm were sick with some kind of disease and all of them were going to be shipped off to be slaughtered the next day. The farm worker we talked to said we could take a tour but could not ride or even get near the ostriches - she also informed us that most of the other ostrich farms in the area had the same problem.

In light of this news my spirit was crushed. I suggested to Chaz that we should try one more ostrich farm and if we had no luck with that one then we would give up on riding ostriches. Luckily we encountered an ostrich farm down the road that had no problems at all with their ostriches and we bought tickets to take a tour and to ride them!

the Ostrich tour was very interesting and a bit strange as well. For one, the ostriches at the farm are treated like beef cows in the US. They are raised up by human hands until a certain age and then slaughtered for their skin, feathers, and meat. I felt a bit sad for the birds as we headed toward the riding pen. Sitting on an ostrich feels strange because the bird is not bulky although it is tall. It's not like sitting on a horse where at least you feel a bit secure and you know you are sitting on a sturdy animal - I felt like I was crushing the poor bird and it felt very unsteady. Riding the ostrich was another fun and yet strange experience. I got on the ostrich with the help of two dockies while the bird was blindfolded. At first I wanted to grab on to the bird's neck but I was told if I did that I would get bucked off. To ride an ostrich you have to grab the birds wings and lean back as far as you can and then hold on for dear life.

It was a fun ride and it seems silly to me looking back on it. I enjoyed the tour and the overall experience but it was a bit depressing to think that these birds do not live very long lives on these farms. Out in the wild an ostrich can live for 30 or so years but on a farm some don't even get to live to be 2 years old.

Our last leg of the journey led us to Stellenbosch. It was another 7 hour drive but well worth it in the end. Stellenbosch is a smaller college town outside of Capetown, It is a very safe place as far as South African standards go.

We arrived around 7pm and found another 5 star hotel along a very trendy street full of interesting shops and restaurants. Our night and our last day in Stellenbosch consisted of eating good food and exploring the town's streets. I bought quite a few souvenirs and Chaz got to talk with two local part time gift shop workers about all things South Africa and USA related. It was a very nice end to a long trip.

Basically we left Stellenbosch and headed to Capetown and then after a long series of flights from Capetown to Amsterdam to DC we finally made it back to the US!

So, After typing all this, here are some final impressions.
South Africa has beautiful scenery and the people are very friendly and of course, they have awesome accents! The racial tension is a bit unnerving but understandable being that apartheid ended not even 20 years ago. With all the experiences I had I never felt truly safe in any part of the country -  although the US could learn a few things about service and hospitality from South Africa. Nevertheless, my boyfriend, his family, and I had some wonderful experiences and met some amazing people. We got to see wonderful sights and I would definitely come back to South Africa some time in the future! It was definitely a worthwhile trip.

South Africa! part 1

South Africa! Suid-Afrika! land of Springboks, Die Antwoord, District 9, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Biltong, Droewors, and Nelson Mandela! Racially tense and stunningly beautiful at the same time!

My first international adventure was a great success! I was a mixture of excited and nervous about traveling to South Africa because of various things I heard about the country. I had heard great stories about how beautiful the country was and how awesome the South African accent is but also some scary stories about how dangerous and unsafe it is over there.

In reality, I am very lucky that I was even able to go. My boyfriend Chaz's sister Katie's best friend is from South Africa and her wedding was May 21. At first just the immediate family was invited to come but then the bride was very gracious and invited me to come too. Words cannot express how grateful I was to be there for her wedding and how privileged I feel to be able to come and visit the country! It was one of the best experiences of my life so far.

So begins the journey! my flight itinerary was like this: Dulles (DC) - Amsterdam - Johannesburg.

The first leg of the trip was surprisingly smooth. Chaz, his family, and I made it to Amsterdam around 2am East Coast time, 8-9am Amsterdam time. the flight over was 7 hours-the longest I had ever flown at that time-but the ride was great! we flew KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and had excellent food and service on the plane!

the next leg of the flight started off a little strange as we had to go through security again at Amsterdam Schiphol. It was a bit frustrating to be patted down and screened again but we made it on to the plane with no major problems. Again, we flew KLM and it turned out that the flight was half empty so I was able to stretch out my legs and nap with an entire row to myself for a bit! After ten hours of flying we landed in Johannesburg.

To say that our experience in Johannesburg was bad would be a huge understatement. Various factors contributed to it being a very unsettling experience and you would have to tie me up and throw me on a plane to ever get me back in that city again.
We arrived in Joburg around 9pm - not a very safe time to arrive in most scary places. As we zipped through customs, got our passports stamped, and grabbed our luggage it was very clear we were not going to have a smooth time getting out of the airport. 

Not two seconds after emerging from International Arrivals we were heckled by a wide range of (black) men aggressively asking if we wanted a taxi. Obvious scammers ready to overcharge or bribe us. At currency exchange my boyfriend and his father almost got cheated out of getting their moneys worth in South African Rand. I almost lost my passport as well and by some stroke of extreme luck my currency exchange teller was nice enough to hold on to it for me. All this and we weren't even out of the airport!

Our hotel taxi picked us up shortly after I relocated my passport. By now it was probably 10 or 11pm. We met our driver and he was a nice (white) older South African man with a very thick accent. On our drive to the hotel we passed the deserted city streets of Joburg and all our driver could talk about was how horrible the city was and how corrupt the government of SA was and how things were different and better in his youth (during apartheid). After telling us what to watch out for and who to watch out for he ended the conversations by telling us how wonderful a country South Africa was.

Our stay in the hotel was the best experience out of our Joburg stay. We were greeted by the wife of our taxi driver and offered juice or wine. This seemed strange as I am used to being asked if I want water -  especially after a long plane ride. We learned throughout the trip that water is scare in some parts of South Africa and tap water is undrinkable so you have to ask for bottled water if you want any at all.

The hotel was more of an Inn and our rooms were very spacious and comfortable. Familiar aspects were around but it was obvious we were in a very different country on a different continent. This fact was driven home even more when we woke up and had to start the next leg of our journey.

Breakfast was delicious and it gave us time to sit and relax. We even met a man from Alaska that was going solo on a game hunting expedition somewhere in the country. Not my cup of tea at all but it was interesting to hear an American accent again.

The view of Joburg in the daytime on our drive to the airport wasn't much different from our view at night. the streets were littered with trash and debris and although we passed by some nice looking homes all of them would be better classified as fortresses. Every single house was surrounded by a thick wall of concrete topped off with a row of barbed wire or spikes or both. To complete the impenetrable fortress feel some houses had electric wire on top of the spikes just for the occasional extremely desperate burglar.

Once we arrived at the airport we thanked our amazing hostess and headed inside. Inside Johannesburg airport we thought we would get by unmolested but unfortunately we ran into two men insistent on "helping" us. When we wouldn't let them carry our bags they "lead" us to a check-in station for our flight and then demanded cash. My boyfriend and his father were smart enough not to get out their wallets and even though the men were pushy and desperate we got away and through security with all of our money.

Our flight from Johannesburg to Durban was much nicer and so begins the exciting and fun part of the adventure! The experiences from here on out were much better than Joburg by far.

Mango airlines is a South African airline that offers cheap domestic SA flights comprable to flying with Airtran in the US. On our flight to Durban my boyrfriend sat with two local South Africans from Johannesburg and had a very good conversation with them all about things to do and see in South Africa. They told him not to go running around in sugar cane fields because poisonous snakes thrive there, they also had awesome accents.

Arriving in KingShaka airport in Durban (especially made for the 2010 World Cup) was a refreshing change from Joburg Airport. The airport seemed smaller, cleaner, and friendlier when we passed through our gates and after renting a car we were ready to head to our hotel for the night.

With renting a car in South Africa comes the strange experience of driving on the left hand side of the road (in my case, sitting passenger side on the right side of the car). Seeing Chaz drive on the left side of the road was a strange and scary experience at first as you have to adjust everything you knew about driving all in short amount of time, and on the highway. Luckily we made it safely to our hotels an hour and a half outside of Durban.

The area we stayed at was where Katie's friend Donna was having her wedding. The area was a bit of popular beach vacation spot and the beaches we saw were absolutely beautiful!

After checking in to the hotel and going to visit the wedding venue/hotel (also absolutely beautiful!) the plan was to grab some food from a restaurant and then have a relaxing evening full of wine and conversation. The restaurant we went to was more of chain along the lines of Red Lobster but our food was very good. Our waitress had a bit of hard time understanding our accents and we threw her for a bit of a loop when asking for ketchup with our french fries (in SA, ketchup is just called tomato sauce and french fries are called chips).

We encountered an empty parking lot when we exited from the restaurant-which was strange as it was only 7pm. As we were about to drive away Chaz saw a man outside our car with a reflector vest coming toward us, he looked strange so we peeled out of the parking lot as fast as we could. Later, we learned that that man was probably a car guard coming up to us for a tip. It is common for most parking lots in SA to have car guards because car break-ins happen frequently-tipping the guards is common too.
We learned that the area we were staying in was fairly safe, yet not safe enough to warrant walking to a liquor store to get some booze.

After a relaxing night of conversation and wine it was bedtime to get ready for the wedding the next day. The next post will be from the wedding onwards! to be continued...