They are Here!

I am happy to report that the family is here, and we are already enjoying our time together! They arrived around 2:30, and William swiftly got us to our “sustainable giving home.” It was a beautiful, warm day so they got a good view of Table Mountain on the way. William thought we should go directly to the cableway, but the timing was not right after two days of flying!

There was a little time to settle in and shower before heading to Gold Restaurant, where we learned to play the djembe, tried 14 different foods from around the African continent, and enjoyed lots of singing and entertainment (including face painting for all!).

It is late now and all are trying to sleep. Tomorrow if the weather holds we will visit Robben Island!

Water, Sun, & Sand

Our braai Sunday night was delicious. There were mixed reviews on the ostrich kabobs, but no one can deny the meat was tender, juicy, and flavorful. 🙂 Monday morning at Backpackers’ Paradise was cold! Gerard said 3c in fact, which is about 37f. We found our way to the main lodge to sit by the fire (with the 3 cats who reside there!) as we woke up and waited for breakfast. Toast, eggs, and fruit filled our bellies, and we set out in the minibus around 8:30.

We drove back through the Klein Karoo, which means “little land of thirst.” We went past the ostrich farms, through the hop valley, and over the Outeniqua Mountains. We drove through the city of George and back to Wilderness. Our first stop was at the Kaaimansrivier to do some kayaking. Thankfully the sun was out and it had warmed up! Gerard guided us along this calm, shallow river to a secret waterfall and past a sandy beach. We saw the waves of the Indian Ocean crashing in the distance. Aside from some bumper boats and splashing, it was a fairly tame paddle. 🙂 The kayak guy said most South Africans have not seen the waterfall that we visited, so we felt special!

We piled back in the minibus and headed to a Spar Market to purchase our lunch items. We drove a couple of minutes to Wilderness Beach, and we picnicked in the sand as we watched the waves. The Indian Ocean here is very blue and the sand is quite gold. Most of us got at least our feet in the water, and some got their whole selves wet! It was a fun time together, relaxing in the sun and admiring the beauty around us.

As I write this, we are on our way back to Cape Town, some 5 hours from here. Gerard got us some snacks of “Nik Naks” (like Cheetos) and “Jelly Tots” (think Dots), and the students have requested an ice cream comfort stop in awhile. 🙂 Our first stop was along the road at an ostrich farm. It was fun to get an up-close look at these amazing creatures! We made a couple more comfort stops, as well as an incredible sunset stop with Table Bay and the back of Table Mountain in full view!

On the home front, the family is on their long layover in Frankfurt, Germany. It was an extra stressful departure yesterday as the new South African regulation of carrying original birth certificates for minors was not known to us. Reed learned of it in PDX and was able to get our kids’ originals, but my sister is traveling with copies. Oliver from VAC said they should suffice just fine, and he acknowledged it is a ridiculous new rule when birth certificates were verified in order to obtain the kids’ passports! Anyway, fingers (& toes) crossed they will have an easy-going passport control agent in Johannesburg tomorrow!

Discovering the Garden Route

Saturday we set off bright and early for our Garden Route Tour. I, for one, was excited to get out of the city for a few days and explore some new areas. We enjoyed our first “comfort stop” as our guide Gerhard calls them, at the Oumeul Bakery in a cute town called Riviersonderend. Gerard surprised us at our second comfort stop with a treat of “milk tart” that he secretly purchased at the bakery! It was like a warm custard pie in a phyllo dough crust. Yum.

We ventured on, driving some five hours, and we were delighted to view the Indian Ocean at Mossel Bay (notice the township too). We arrived around 12:30 for lunch at the Botlierskop Private Game Reserve. After our lovely lunch in the beautifully decorated lodge, we set out for our 2.5 hour safari. The sun was out and so were the animals! We saw giraffe, rhinos, elephants, lions, and many kinds of antelope. A couple of highlights included the lions sunning themselves on the road after a big meal (check out her belly!). Also was our guide squeezing fresh elephant poo and drinking the “water” from it. I’m not even kidding. It was one of the grossest things I’ve ever seen. One of our students’ phones slid right out of the truck, but amazingly we recovered it using “find iPhone.” It truly felt like some kind of South African miracle!

We said goodbye to the animals and journeyed on to Sedgefield, a little surf town right on Myoli Beach and the Indian Ocean. We got a peek of the sunset before we settled into our rooms at Afrovibe Adventure Lodge (no Wi-Fi hence no blog post). Then we enjoyed a beachside / fireside dinner and colorful welcome drinks, courtesy of Gerard. It was a good day on the Garden Route!

Sunday we awoke to rain. So, we got our Gumbies on and made a new plan for the day. No beach time or canoeing / hiking (we’ll save that for Monday), but instead we began with visiting a scenic viewpoint in Knysna. Not unlike the Eagle Creek Fire last fall, Knysna suffered a huge arson fire last June, so we could see the evidence both in scorched hillsides as well as lost homes. Sadly relatable.

Next we crossed the Outeniqua Mountains toward Oudtshoorn. Along the way we saw “hop valley” (yes, where hops were harvested a couple of months ago!) and lots of ostriches. Oudtshoorn is the ostrich capital of South Africa, and some of us will enjoy it tonight at our fireside braai (barbecue). We also had a good time singing “Africa” by Toto as we drove in the rain. 🙂

Gerard planned to take us to lunch at a winery, but it was closed being Sunday. So, he instead took us to a very unique lodge / restaurant with a big inside fire / braai. It was incredible! The owner (seen in the photo in a khaki shirt by Gerard, who’s wearing black) cooked lamb chops and beef sausages right in front of us. Different kinds of salads, veggies, and pickles – along with some delicious warm rolls – accompanied the meat. We departed with full bellies, perfect for a little spelunking (not!).

We traveled a short distance to Cango Caves, 20 million year old, spectacular limestone caverns. Some students did the adventure tour where you slide through something called the “letterbox” and climb “devil’s chimney,” among other feats. I went with a student on the heritage tour, which goes through six of the “halls.” Unfortunately, one student is not feeling well and rested in the bus for both the caves and lunch. Hoping the rest helped and the evening is much better!

We just settled in at Backpackers Paradise in Oudtshoorn. Our fireside braai will be at 7:00 tonight. Monday we plan to dip our toes in the Indian Ocean (finally) when we travel back to the canoeing / hiking area we missed today due to the rain. The weather report looks better, so hopefully that works out! We then will make the long drive back to Cape Town, arriving after dark I should think.

Reed and the kids are at PDX now as I write this, so I can hardly wait for them to arrive, along with my sister’s family! When we return to Cape Town tomorrow, I need to move to our family accommodations, so I may not get to blog. For your patience and for following along, I say “baie dankie!” (Afrikaans for “thank you,” and pronounced, “buy a donkey!”)

Wrapping up Week 2

On Thursday, students were at their placements wrapping up their work there. I think they have had valuable experiences overall, serving alongside staff at the Ihata Shelter and Heideveld Clinic. I will read more in their journals and final reflection papers!

Thursday evening was an optional free activity through VACorps: a concert at the Baxter Theater. Ernesto and I went and had a great time! The singer – Tankiso – was AMAZING, as was her four-man band. She sang all original songs (minus one that was written about her), that ranged from traditional Xhosa and Sotho ones to those that were in English. Themes included the struggle of the people here, femicide, empowerment, and oppression. As I said, it was an amazing experience for which I am very grateful!

Thursday night was very wild, weather-wise. The rain was heavy off-and-on, as were the winds. I thought I would awaken to fallen trees and crumbled buildings, but all was fine! You can see the construction project next door to my flatlet is coming along nicely. 🙂

Friday was a free day. I got together with Sheila, who was my “home stay mom” for six weeks in 2012. She took me to lovely De Grendel Wine Estate where we chatted for a couple of hours while we tasted several delicious South African wines. (Check out our view of Table Mountain!) It was a special time to reminisce and catch up.

Saturday morning we will depart early for our 3-day Garden Route Tour (see photo of itinerary if interested). I’m not sure if I’ll be able to post while we’re on the road, but trust that we are having a good time together and are in great hands exploring this beautiful country!

Learning Lots & Savoring Moments

Tuesday and Wednesday were spent by students working at their placement sites: the Ihata Shelter and Heideveld Clinic. It is hard to believe there is only one more day at these places. Some students have commented on how they’d like to have more time serving there. We wrote cards of thanks today and will deliver small tokens of our gratitude tomorrow. This really is a special bunch of young adults!

We met after the placements each day at what has come to be known as “Café Oliver.” In addition to talking about experiences at the placements, home stays, and life in Cape Town, Wednesday included playing Catan.

I am pleased to report that the new homestay is working out well for the students who went through that ordeal. They get to learn a bit about life here through the eyes of the 8-year-old boy and his dog who reside there. I will return to Good Hope Studies to deliver a letter they wrote to their former hosts explaining their experience. It seems like very important feedback, and I appreciate the students caring about future guests in their home by doing this. Like I said, a special bunch!

I also was able to book a return visit to Langa Township to accompany our student who was ill when we visited on Monday. (That’s where the cool elephant art is.) Thankfully, after going to the doctor yesterday and getting meds to treat a sinus infection, she is on the mend. We are in such good hands here in Cape Town, for which I am very grateful! It is a lot for families to send off their dear ones to such a far-away place. I hope any worries of safety have dissipated by now. We all are doing well, learning lots, and savoring each moment as our time is moving along.

 

Two Days — Two Tours

Sunday we had a historically interesting and stunningly beautiful tour of Stellenbosch. Monday we had a historically interesting and stunningly beautiful tour of Langa. Across these two days we experienced two very different tours.

Sunday in Stellenbosch: It was a perfect day weather-wise…sunny, clear, and around 21 degrees. Our friends William and Ibrahim were our guides, and we set out around noon. We drove east out of the city to the Cape Winelands. The Mediterranean-like climate is perfect for growing grapes, and the hillsides are abundant with vineyards. Being that it is the end of autumn/early winter here, the leaves were golden, particularly with the sun shining brilliantly down.

William slowly strolled us through the old center of town where we admired the gleaming white buildings and Dutch architecture. We saw the posh boutiques, vibrant galleries, sidewalk cafes, many churches, an old trading post, and another slave lodge. The streets were lined with oak trees, first planted by the town’s founder in the late 1600s. We rejoined Ibrahim and drove through the lovely University of Stellenbosch campus where around 30,000 students attend. Quite idyllic indeed.

Next we set out toward Paarl, still awaiting our alleged wine tasting. The region is famous for its wines, particularly pinotage. We drove for quite some time, listening to stories of the area, the mountains, and the rich history. Finally we arrived at The Spice Route, where we could choose to sample wine, but also craft beer, chocolate, pizza, and biltong (similar to jerky). We now understood why William brought us all this way – some 27km past Stellenbosch – there was something for everyone!

We sat and watched the sun go down, remarking on how it must be one of the most beautiful views in the world. With Table Mountain about 65km in the distance, we marveled at the beauty around us. We drove back to Cape Town quite content, thanking William and Ibrahim for a truly lovely afternoon.

Monday in Langa: It was a less-than-perfect day weather-wise…windy, rainy, and about 15 degrees. Our new friend and guide, Zuzeka, lead us through the streets of Langa Township, her home. She shared how she was born and raised in Langa, and she still lives there today. She is working toward become a third-grade teacher, and once she finishes her education, she will teach at a primary school in Langa.

Langa was originally created as a settlement for working men. Then during apartheid, it became a Black township (primarily Xhosa) with harsh living conditions. She said it is a “small” township (by township standards) with around 70,000 residents today. Local guides like Zuzeka proudly take tourists through Langa, and you can read more about our specific tour company, Siviwe.

As in 2012 when I did a similar tour with students, we began our experience at the Visitor Center and saw the lovely pottery and other handcrafts made at Langa. A large new theater was built in 2013, and Zuzeka said many performers share their talents with local audiences in it. She added that architecture students built it out of reclaimed materials. Now the rain began, so we put up our hoods and set out through the streets of Langa.

We visited the various types of living structures in Langa, as Zuzeka called them the “low class” hostels and shacks, the “middle class” government apartments and small homes, and the “high class” private homes. (She said she lives in a middle class home, and, although she called the high class homes “Beverly Hills,” they were still modest by our standards.) She explained how payment works, meaning if you pay rent, or only for utilities, et cetera. We went inside a hostel and shack to see how people were living. They were dark and cold, though a lot of human ingenuity was on display. People creatively and resourcefully live in Langa.

There are shops (groceries, barbers, clothing, driving schools) in Langa, mostly housed in shipping containers. There are services (doctors, libraries, schools, police) in Langa. We stepped into a dark shack where traditional African beer is made from sorghum, maize meal, and water. We sat around the fire and heard stories about celebratory rituals (manhood, marriage) when the beer is made by the women. We got to taste the milky beer, somewhat reminiscent of kombucha.

We stepped into a brighter “5-star shack,” the home of Shooter, called that for his “shorter” height (his actual name is Shadrack, and he has been told he resembles Morgan Freeman). He described how he moved up from a cramped hostel-type setting into his shack made ingeniously out of recycled materials. He described how fires can swiftly tear through the shack communities, how wires are strung from shack to shack to share electricity, and Zuzeka told us he moved his daughter out of the community to protect her. He was a man we all quickly admired.

We walked on and saw the sheep heads on tables where they had been prepared. This site was not one I wanted to see again, but it is an important part of the Xhosa culture that I respect.

We found a cheerful preschool full of rambunctious children, stepped in out of the rain, and played with them for awhile. The teachers must be weary after tending to them from 0700 to 1800 Monday through Friday.

We went inside a lovely home where a woman has a catering business. It was warm and smelled of wonderful things. We were fortunate to be able to purchase small bread rounds for 3 rands (or filled with egg and mayo or chicken and mayo for 4,50 rands). We happily ate these warm delights.

We returned to Cape Town with new images in our minds. We heard rich stories from Zuzeka of hardships and struggles, deep connections and traditions, and the triumph of the human spirit. She told us to never give up, despite our circumstances, and that sure means a lot coming from her: a truly lovely young Xhosa woman, working hard to better her life, yet staying tightly and proudly connected to her community.

Two days, two tours.

Wow Wow Wow!

Today we were true Cape Town tourists and rode the hop-on / hop-off bus ’round & ’round and up & down majestic Table Mountain. We were so fortunate to have a sunny, calm day, and it felt as if we were on the top (of the bottom) of the world!

We began with a return to Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden where we got soaked on Monday. We enjoyed the panoramic views and tree top canopy. Next we ventured on to the World of Birds where we walked through enclosure after enclosure of every kind of bird on the planet it seemed! We also saw guinea pigs, lemurs, and various monkeys. Wow!

At this point we were in need of lunch, so we set our sites on Camps Bay and the Hard Rock Cafe for the “free” burger included with our bus ticket. By now it was nearly 15:00, so we opted for Ubers to get us quickly up to the aerial cableway on Table Mountain. We already had our tickets, so we went straight to the cable car queue. Before we knew it, we were ascending what felt to be straight up in our cable car, complete with rotating floor! Wow!

We marveled at the views and meandered along the paths for over an hour. We were so fortunate to have calm winds and relatively clear skies, along with a nicely timed ride down at sunset. Wow! The bus took us back to the waterfront, and we Ubered to our respective homes.

It was a day full of beauty and contrasts. This truly is a unique and spectacular part of the world. We all highly recommend that it gets on your “places I need to go” list! Here are just a few of the incredible scenes from today. I’m sure each of the student’s social media pages has many more incredible shots. 🙂

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