2010 South Africa Trip
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Today was a day packed with sightseeing around Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city and main financial center. Sadly, Clive needed to return to Cape Town today after serving as our tour guide for the past two weeks, but we were joined by another guide, Astrid. In the morning, she took us to Constitution Hill, the site of an old fort originally built by order of the Transvaal President, Paul Kruger, which later served as a prison for both common criminals and political prisoners, with figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela (before his better-known imprisonment on Robben Island) among its inmates. As was the case with our visit to Robben Island, learning about the suffering imposed on the prisoners was a profoundly moving experience, but, like Robben Island, Constitution Hill was also a powerful symbol of the triumph of the new South Africa over the old, especially since the site now also includes the Constitutional Court, the highest court in the country. It is of great symbolic significance that the Court was built partially with bricks from the now-demolished prison block for inmates awaiting trial, as the bricks, once used to violate the human rights of South Africans, now safeguard their liberties.
For lunch, we drove to Soweto (the South-Western Township,) the apartheid-era housing area for Jo’burg’s black population, and it was pleasing to note that conditions in Soweto were usually better than those of the black settlements we visited around Cape Town, with most people possessing actual houses, although we still saw some run-down metal shacks similar to those surrounding Cape Town. After eating at a restaurant in Soweto, we walked to the nearby former home of Nelson Mandela, where he lived with his family before his imprisonment on Robben Island (he now lives in Houghton, one of Jo’burg’s more affluent suburbs, which is comparable to Beverley Hills in Los Angeles). The relative simplicity of the former “Mandela House,” though, demonstrated its owner’s humble beginnings, and the bullet holes still visible on the house’s exterior walls were a tragic sign of the police persecution suffered by the Mandela family while Nelson was in prison. After the Mandela House came a short drive to the Hector Pieterson Memorial, whose namesake was a thirteen-year-old boy shot and killed by police during the 1976 Soweto Uprising, with the Memorial featuring an iconic photograph of the lifeless body of Hector Pieterson being carried down the street by his best friend, who was flanked by Hector’s sister. The Uprising was originally intended to protest the teaching of some subjects in the Afrikaans language in black schools (as Afrikaans was a symbol of apartheid), but eventually developed into a general revolt against apartheid that powerfully demonstrated the role of young black South Africans in the struggle against the oppressive system.
The day concluded with a two-hour visit to Jo’burg’s Apartheid Museum, which traced the history of apartheid, covering its origins, implementation, black resistance, and fall. There was also a temporary exhibit concerning the life of Nelson Mandela. Although there is still much to be done to completely overcome the effects of apartheid on South Africa, the Museum offered a message of hope, demonstrating how far the country has come. I (C.T.) also chose to walk around the Museum’s garden, as I needed to spend some time with my thoughts on the matter, and I realized that although the Museum was a solemn reminder of the inhumanity of apartheid, it was also, in a way, liberating. After that, while returning to the hotel, we drove past “Soccer City,” the new stadium being built for the opening and closing of this year’s FIFA World Cup, also to be hosted in other cities across South Africa.
-C. T. and P. T.
Today we visited the Makuleke people, a group that lives in the Pafuri Triangle, where we are currently staying. We started out the day by sleeping in an extra hour (till six thirty) and heading to a primary school. We saw their first library set up by a no-nonsense woman from California named Betsy. She travels to South Africa for weeks at a time and has donated a great deal to help the school and get the library off of the ground. We were given the opportunity to sit in on grades one through three and watched as they reviewed both numbers and the alphabet in Shangani and English.
Afterwards, we grabbed a quick bite to eat on the side of the road by our bus and then hopped on, heading to the high school. The students warmly welcomed us. We sat in on English classes, Creative Writing in Shangani, and Chemistry in English. Once the bell rang, as excited as they were, they chatted and took lots of pictures with us.
We moved on to a local bed and breakfast for a late lunch, where a play detailing some of the Makuleke history was performed for us. The words and songs were all in their native tongue, and it described how the Government forcibly removed them from their land in 1969, through their land being returned to them in 1998. Subsequently, we were invited to dance with the performers. We then headed back to camp Pafuri for our final night there. We had an hour or so to ourselves and then ate under the stars (accompanied by a swarm of insects that caused us to relocate).
CA and ED
These three days have been spent at Camp Pafuri in the Makuleke province in the northernmost tip of Kruger National Park. The camp itself is set where the plains of the wilderness meet the Luvuvhu river bank. All buildings are raised some 8 feet off of the ground and connected by raised walkways.
The lodgings consist of constructed cabins that have tents for their exterior walls and are covered by a wooden pavilion. While this protects all campers during their sleep, it does not prevent the local wildlife from making an appearance at the camp. Small monkeys and baboons were commonly seen on the walkways, and during the cooler times of the day we could see numerous impala and nyala within the camp perimeter. One night an elephant was feeding off of a nearby tree. Several weeks before our arrival, a pride of lions walked through the camp, stalking impala. Just waking up and looking out of your tent was an adventure!
To add to the rustic feel, there is no air conditioning and all beds come with mosquito nets. The staff at camp Pafuri is committed to environmental biodiversity, and all efforts at conservation and minimizing our effect on the wild were taken.
As with camp Kapama, our game drives took place in the early morning and in the late afternoon when there was a better chance of seeing wildlife. There were also walking tours that were available in the mid-day. We got to see many amazing sights, but the highlights included:
- A very close look at a small pride of lions with three cubs in their number
- Herds of elephants
- The oldest tree in Kruger, a baobab (estimated to be some 2500 years old)
- The leopard sighting that eluded us at Kapama (completing our sightings of the “big five”)
- Groups of Hippos
- A visit to “Crooks’ Corner” where the borders of South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique all converge
- Countless other amazing sightings of wildlife are seen in an up-close manner and no cages!
Tomorrow we head into the Makuleke township to visit their schools, their local library, as well as a cultural presentation depicting the story of how their ancestral lands were first taken away by the apartheid government in the 1960s, and then returned to them some 30 years later.
Three students visited the Cheetah rehabilitation center, where they learned about the various types of cheetah, most notably the king cheetah (characterized by the stripes along its spine and larger spots due to a recessive gene). The students, who stayed at the hotel, relaxed by the pool, visited the workout room, caught up on sleep, or had spa treatments. After the break, we left again for the night safari, where we had the rare opportunity to see a lion and lioness lounging together on the border of their territory. So far we have seen four of The Big Five, the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot: the lion, the rhino, the buffalo, the elephant, and the leopard (which we hope to encounter tomorrow morning). The Kapama Lodge is beautiful and unique for its dense foliage, which is markedly lusher than what we will see in the Pafuri Camp. We have so far had an amazing stay in South Africa, and we cannot wait for the mind opening experiences yet to come!
-- CI and EP
Wednesday January 13, 2010
We started our day off in the town of Hazyview and made our way through Graskop to Pilgrim’s Rest. This historical place is a preserved mining boomtown that dates back to the 1860’s when gold was discovered there. Then we went on to The Three Rondavels (Three Huts) on the Blyde River Canyon.
This is the third largest canyon and also the largest foliage (or “green”) canyon in the world. We then backtracked to Bourke’s Luck Potholes, where we ventured across bridges and rocks to view the deep water-filled crevices. These “potholes” are actually round sites caused by the peculiar circular erosion patterns caused by the swirling motion of the water in this formation.
Afterwards we made our way to the breath-taking Lisbon Waterfalls. We then returned to Graskop for lunch and traveled through the scenic rural area of Bush Buck Ridge. Finally we reached our primary destination, the entrance gate of the Kapama Reserve on the borders of Kruger National Park. We were just in time to be met by our bush guides for a late afternoon game drive (safari). We were very fortunate to see White Rhinos, Giraffes, a male Lion, Impalas, Buffalos and multiple herds of herds Zebra! Our guides said that it was unusual to see so many sights on just one outing.
We returned back to the camp just in time to make our way to a lovely outdoor dinner, buffet style. Next, we prepared and took a short quiz on our past few days. While others returned to their rooms, some of us took a dip in the pool. Good news is that we’re all in our rooms by curfew, and now signing off to go to bed. Goodnight!
KB, LR, KT
We travelled from Capetown to the province of Mpumulunga by air and
then drove from Hippo Hotel to Kapama Reserve within Hippo Hollow.
Along the way we stopped at the 3 Huts mountain formation and the 3
potholes. Yesterday afternoon, we went on our first game drive at
Students cycled in a vineyard on the outskirts of Cape Town.
The group had dinner in the heart of the city at Gold Restaurant featuring a drumming lesson, dancing and puppets.
In the morning we went to Robben Island and saw the prison where Mandela and
many other political prisoners were held. We then continued to Langa Township where we ate lunch, toured, and played with the local children.
-- T. Ellis
Greetings, today began as a travel day. We flew northeasterly for about 3 hours to Mpumalanga Airport. The notable feature of the airport is its thatched roof atop an otherwise modern looking structure.
We then drove through the town of White River where we all noticed that Afrikaans proliferates much more than in Cape Town. As we continued towards our final destination of Hazy View, we passed plantations of bananas, lemons, eucalyptus, and pine trees (for paper pulp). A Northern Baboon crossed our path and we also spotted an ostrich farm.
After a quick stop at our hotel, Hippo Hollow, to don swimming gear, we headed out for some paddling on the Sabie River and saw our share of white water along the way. Everyone had a fantastic time tackling the level 3 rapids, including a patch called the Devil's Knuckles, and we all finished the trip safely and much wetter.
The day just concluded with a presentation from a chief from the local Shangaan tribe. Shangaan dancers performed several athletic dances and then some of our students learned a few steps as well. We have rather limited internet access here so we will post pictures at a later location. Tomorrow we head into Kruger National Park and we are all looking forward to that and seeing loads of wild life.
-- T. Ellis
Today, we took a ferry to Robben Island where we toured around the island on a guided bus. Robben Island was the place where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27-year sentence. We were taken into the cell units and through the main grounds guided by an ex-political prisoner who was kept on the island for 4 years.
After Robben Island we traveled to the Township of Langa where we had a typical South African Meal while listening to the traditional music of the Lelapa Marimba Band. After our excellent meal we went to an adjacent township where we walked through while talking and playing with the children. It was truly an eye opening to see the conditions that these families are living in. Some of these families are forced to live in a shack size of a bathroom or a closet with as many as 7 or 8 people. It is truly astounding that people live in such terrible conditions and yet can still be happy, joyful, and have hope for a better tomorrow.
LP and PT
In the morning, we departed Cape Town for a drive to the nearby town of Stellenbosch, the country's second-oldest settlement after Cape Town. Stellenbosch is known (among other things) for being a center of wine cultivation, and so we began with a tiring but fun bicycle ride up and down the sloping dirt trails on the mountainside of one of the local vineyards. Our hosts at the Delvera Vineyard grew nine different varieties of grapes on their farm.
We then drove through the town itself, and saw part of the University of Stellenbosch, renowned for its excellent agricultural program. Due to the nice weather (a combination of shade from an abundance of trees, as well as ample sunlight) and vibrant small-town shops nearby, we had a stimulating visit. The combination of distinctive architecture, and notable boulevards of pin oak trees were reminiscent of schools such as Stanford or Rice.
After stopping to experience a genuine open-air African street market, we then returned to Cape Town for more shopping at the famed Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. Dinner in the evening was at the Gold Restaurant and Museum, where we learned to play traditional djembe drums, took part in a hand-washing ceremony, and enjoyed local delicacies while singers, dancers, and drummers put on an amazing performance around us.
CT & AB
Unfortunately, the day did not start off as planned. The FIERCE winds created a poor setting for kayaking, so we moved on to Maiden’s Cove. There we admired the beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean. The breeze was brisk and cool creating the perfect weather for the start of a busy day.
Once we were done, we took a ferry ride to view over 3,000 seals in their natural habitat. But that’s not we all we did! Once we got back on the ferry, we went to Boulders Beach to visit the African Penguins. The African Penguins can be found along the southwestern tip of South Africa, about 4,000 miles away from Antarctica.
From there, we trotted along to the beach where we played in the Indian Ocean. After lunch, we explored the real African terrain, in search of Baboons with the help of guides from the organization, Baboon Matters. It was an experience like no other! We not only spotted the baboons, but we got a close look from within the troop, providing an exceptional experience of observing their natural behavior. We received information about their mating patterns, eating habits, and their unfortunate encounters with humans. Abuse of and the killing of baboons have led to changes not only in their behavior, but also in some of the local laws and procedures outside of Cape Town. This concluded our second full day in Africa.
DC & SS
We had a very busy day and were so fortunate so see a lot of animals
in their natural habitats. We began with a ferry boat to Seal Island
in the False Bay, then we walked to the adjacent beach to see the
African Penguins, and later drove across the peninsula to see the
baboons. It was quite spectacular.
Before our South African adventure could commence, we had the chance to experience London for just a few hours before our next plane departed.
First, we ate lunch at the National Gallery and spent some time getting lost in the giant and very extensive museum, seeing some of the most famous paintings in the world by Degas, Van Gough, Monet, and Picasso, just to name a few. From there, we proceeded to Buckingham Palace, where we braved the ice and snow to get a few pictures. Finally, after many long hours of flights, a layover, and delays (one major delay due to ice on the plane departing from London), we made it to Cape Town, South Africa!
We were first greeted by wonderful summer weather with cool breezes blocking out the hot African sun – and our Cape Town native guide, Clive. Our group arrived at our first hotel, the PortsWood, and we were pleasantly surprised by the hospitality of the locals and the proximity to Cape Town’s very famous V&A Waterfront.
After some much needed rest and showers, we embarked on our first journey to the Waterfront, esteemed for it’s historical significance and eclectic shopping opportunities. We then returned to the hotel for a lovely dinner and lots of sleep.
This morning, we set off for our first official day in Cape Town, visiting the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, allowing us to experience the wide variety of plants in the South African fynbos family. After, we drove to the lower part of Lion’s Head peak of Table Mountain (Signal Hill or Lion’s Rump), an already gorgeous view of Table Bay, Robben Island, and the city. We then continued to the main part of Lion’s Head peak to climb up the 2,195 ft mountain. About an hour and a half later, we finally made it to the top, took in the amazing view, ate our lunches, and continued back down the trail. Although we were very worn out, we made our way to an African museum, which educated us on everything from the first cave drawings and indications of mankind to the wide variety of sea life around the continent. After, we ventured back to the hotel for dinner and to rest up for tomorrow’s kayaking, penguin watching, and baboon excursion.
MT & DM
Today, Friday, was our first real day in South Africa. Everything until late yesterday, Thursday, was spent in transit during a quick tour around central London during our long layover.
Photos & locations:
- 2 are from London in front of a snowy Buckingham Palace.
- 2 are Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden
- 3 from Table Mountain, including a view of a World Cup Soccer stadium
- The last photo show students standing in the jaws of a blue whale at the South Africa Museum.