Monthly Archives: August 2013

A Scary Night in Middelburg

As we left Kruger Park, we drove though some of the poorest parts of South Africa. Ridding though the country side, we saw the destitute conditions that so many people were living in.

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It is such a strange spectrum of emotions day by day in Africa. Starting out the day on a safari though a foreign land looking for exotic animals and just a few hours later it seemed to be a totally different world.

ImageWe stopped at a gas station to fill up in a very poverty-stricken area. The station had a credit car reader, but didn’t use it very often. They had trouble running our card, and we hung out in the van for at least an hour. Eventually I went looking for a restroom. Never have I ever seen a restroom so disgusting. It was so apparent that these people didn’t have the money to hire janitors, buy cleaning supplies, or keep up with any routine maintenance. The toilet seat was missing and there was a random tire just laying on the damp floor, there was dirt( and possibly feces in the corner). I decided to choose another rest room and went into a convince store next door. It was even worse. I just couldn’t imagine these types of conditions being the norm. I am so used to being able to just whip my credit or debit card out of my pocket and buy what I need even if I don’t have the cash in my pocket. The bathrooms I use are almost always clean (I can assure that if you don’t initially agree with this statement, you would consider your restrooms clean after seeing what I saw). As we drove away, my heart hung heavy. I thanked God for the life he has given me.

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The highway we drove on had many small villages of dilapidated huts along it. At around 3:00 the shoulders of the road became busy with foot traffic of students. So many children clad in school uniforms laughed and played as they walked home from school. It was quite a sight so see for the next 2-3 hours. Once we would pass from one school district (I don’t know if that term is used outside of the US) to another  we would see a change in uniforms. One thing that was interesting to me, was that we would see a few miles stretch of the same uniform. It dawned on me that these students were walking MILES to get an education. I thought I had it rough walking the quarter mile (maybe half mile) home each day for 9 years of grade school.

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When driving though a small town, we got a little confused on the directions (not the first time) and  the lane merge at a stoplight was a little strange. We might have lingered in a turn lane for too long before correcting our path and going straight. At the top of the hill, a police woman flagged us over to the side  and told us that we had committed a line violation. Marty talked to the woman and explained that we were visiting students and were a little confused. He plead for us to be let off, but the lady insisted that we must go to the station. When Marty explained that we would be late for our check-in at the B&B, and didn’t have time to go in, she decided to strike us a deal. She told us that should could let us off if we paid a fine of $100. Marty is quite the haggler, and was able to talk her down to a $45 fine. We never filled out any paperwork, so we are pretty sure she pocketed the money.

Our hold up with the law had us a little behind schedule, so we called to let the clerk at the Bed and Breakfast know that we might miss normal check in hours.  Although South Africans speak English, the accents have a very strong Dutch sound, and the accents are even harder to decipher  when on the phone.  After a few minuets we realized that they were confused in our reservation and were not expecting us until tomorrow. There was no room in the Inn, and there was no near by stable to crash in for the night, so we were told they would look into new lodging for us. To make things more complicated we were talking on an international cell phone, and therefore they were unable to call us back. Every thirty minuets or so, we would call and try to understand the woman on the other end of the phone. After about six calls, and receiving coordinates and a name, but not a real address, we though we had figured things out.  By the time we got to the general area, it was dark. Like pitch black! Rural South Africa has no street lights, no stop lights, and in some areas, no pavement. We ended up on a horribly bumpy, dark road. It was incredibly eerie. We did not know the exact name of the hotel, we didn’t know the exact address, and we couldn’t see a thing. It felt like we were heading to Bates Motel! After a while we arrived, they didn’t have enough rooms prepared, and they had no heat or hot water. When I woke up my hair was still wet and freezing cold!

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I hope you are enjoying hearing about my trip! Next post: Our visit to the biggest construction project in the world, and our last few days in Jo’burg!

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Kruger Part 2

As we ventured further into the park to our second camp, we kept our eyes out for more animals. Our goal was to see the “Kruger Big 5”. The Big 5 are the White Rhino, Elephant, Water Buffalo, Lion, and Leopard. We were lucky enough to see 3 of the 5. We never saw any cats, but were told that they tend to move north in the winter for better weather,  I don’t think we moved far enough north to see them.  In addition to the elephant, water buffalo, and  white rhino, we saw the black rhino,  lots of giraffes,  baboons, a hyena, zebra, a crocodile, hippopotamus, wildebeests, wart hogs, and so many birds and deer/antelope species.

Enjoy some photos!

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For Dinner we ate at a train station which was converted into a restaurant. I had a pizza with crocodile meat on it. It was delicious! I would totally recommend it. This was a super fun night chilling under the stars with a campfire in the grill pit next to the huts. We definitely had some good bonding 🙂

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In the morning Gabby, Mark, and I went on another sunrise ride with Marty. We discovered a visitor viewing area where we were able to get out of the car. This was the only place (besides the camp) that we saw this option. The area had a fenced in pathway to a small covered dock area.

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This was the coolest part of all of Kruger! We sat in total silence as we watched the sun come up over the most serene watering hole. About 8 hippos stood in the water in front of us, just their faces peaking out of the water. Occasionally they would snort and make calls to a group of hippos in the distance. A tree COMPLETELY COVERED in birds was to our right. It was so covered, I thought the birds were leaves at first. Occasionally a few would soar off over the lake and deeper into the park. A crocodile floated in the water right in front of us.  The whole scene was utterly unbelievable. I was so glad I chose to forgo a few hours of extra sleep to experience this unique sight.

Look hard, those ears/ heads sticking out of the water are hippos

ImageImageImage This was the viewing Area

Check back to hear about the scary night we had in Middelburg!

Travel Day/First Night in Kruger

On Saturday morning we departed Cape town on “Mango Air”.  The small orange plane took us to Johannesburg which is the capital of South Africa. Once settled in our futuristic hotel, we headed to an area called Mandela’s Square. This was a large, high end shopping mall attached to a court yard lined with restaurants. The court yard has a HUGE bronze statue  of Nelson Mandela which is a popular place for photo opportunities. 

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Our evening was very chill. We were tired from the travel, and wanted to be rested for our journey to Kruger National Park in the morning. The night was spent sitting on the deck of the hotel and sipping drinks as talked about our experiences so far.

In the morning we packed up the van and headed north towards Kruger National Park.  On the drive north the scenery began to change from the city views of Jo’Burg, to country side, and eventually began to look more like the terrain from Lion King.

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Kruger National Park is a large area in the north of South Africa. It borders Mozambique, and is about the size of the whole of Whales. The entire park is protected. The animals that reside there are in their natural habitat and are totally wild! The park has many black top roads that visitors can drive their personal car’s through on a self led safari. Scattered through out the park are visitor camps. These camps are large enclosed areas where visitors can stay the night. The area is surrounded by a large gate and is guarded by officials with guns. It appears that these precautions are to keep us safe, but I think that it might be there  to keep us in rather than keep animals out.

 

The camps had a gas station, a restaurant, a convenience store, and small huts where we stayed the night.

The huts were made of brick with a thatched roof.  In the mornings, curious little monkeys would jump around on our roofs. We also saw warthogs in our camp, and of course many unique birds and plants.

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We spent two nights in the park, and three days on safari to get from one area to the next. On the first night we took a open air jeep safari night ride. Our guide taught us how to spot certain animals by the colors their eyes shine at night. We had a couple large spot lights that we shone into the brush looking for animals. Sometime the animals are more active at night due to the weather  and hunting patterns of their predators. We were able to see quite a few animals during our night ride, but as you can imagine, the photos in the dark were not so good.

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The group took a vote and most of us decided to get up  early and go for a early drive to look for more animals and watch the sunrise.  I know I have mentioned it before, but the sun in Africa is SO BEAUTIFUL. Sunrises and sunsets just trump those in Missouri!

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The impala were our most common animal, we seemed to see them everywhere. Impala are medium sized antelope. We also so other deer-like animals like the kudu, and springbok.  (Fun fact, springbok means jumping goat).

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We saw many elephants on our morning ride. Just like  in the movies, we almost always saw them in groups, and when they moved, they would walk in a single file line.

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After our early morning ride, we headed back to camp to eat breakfast, and grab our gear and the rest of the group so we could head off towards the next camp. Walking back from breakfast, Gabby and I came across a cute little monkey, we stopped to take a few pictures. I looked up from my screen, and realized that we were getting surrounded by a ton curious little monkeys. I felt like Jane in the scene in Tarzan, when we drew the picture of the cute little money, the ended up being surrounded and chased down by a ton of vicious monkeys. And “Daddy, they took my boot!”.

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We didn’t get chased, but they sure were very curious, as they followed us back to our hut. It was cool to see them swinging in the trees above our heads, and landing on our roof.

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Stay tuned for the best of Kruger Park still to come!

Friday: The last day in Cape Town

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On Friday morning, we woke up and headed out on the scenic drive down the coast to the Cape of Good Hope. The entire drive was utterly breathtaking.  It was incredible to just watch the might of the ocean waves crashing into the rocks and cliffs along the shoreline.

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Just driving and soaking in the beauty was a great time to reflect on my experience with the learners at the school. We got out many times to take pictures. One location, we stopped and were able to get out and walk along the beach, and climb on some large rocks on the shore. Between some boulders were shallow tide pools full of tiny sea life. We found brightly colored sea anemone, and even live starfish.

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It was incredible that just the night before one of the administrators used a starfish analogy to thank us for our work. He said that after seeing conditions in the school system and in the country in general, we might not feel that what we have done on just one week would have made a difference. When walking along the beach if one sees a starfish washed up on the sand, if everyone could just toss one back in, the starfish would be safe in the water. Seeing the tiny detail of the star fish and sea anemone, and the greatness of table mountain and the ocean remind me that God created it all. Everything and everyone on this earth was created carefully and with a purpose. It reminded me to live my life with intention in all that I do. I want to take the extra step to make someone smile. I want to use my talents and gifts to help another life.

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Once we got further south we entered into a national park where we were able to get out of the van and stretch our legs. We hiked to the southernmost point of Africa (which is actually just east of the Cape of Good Hope). This was a great lookout point complete with a post showing the distance and direction of many cities from that point.

New York 12541KM

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We were told that many times tourist spot whales from the cape. We kept our eyes peeled and even thought we spotted one. After if didn’t move in the water for over a few min, we were able to locate the binoculars, to check out….a rock.  It made for a good joke the rest of the trip. We saw many [whales] rocks throughout the rest of the trip.

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A traditional Whitney head stand picture at the Cape of Good hope!

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We came across some funny looking lizard guys that seemed like baby crocodiles!

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Then we came across a couple of ostriches. They were very interested in our van!

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And then some baboons surrounded us.

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After a great morning of driving and climbing we headed into the countryside where there are many wineries and vineyards that produce the delicious South African wines. We have the pleasure of visiting the Stark- Conde winery that is owned by a fellow Mizzou Grad who met his wife overseas and moved to South Africa to be near her family. Once here, he entered a wine making contest and was so successful, that he now owns this enchanting winery. We were able to sample the wines while sitting on an island surrounded by mountains. Such a cool experience!

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We concluded our list night in Cape Town with a “cheers” to Mizzou in South Africa!

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Thursday Part 2

After leaving the school, the van was rather quiet. Even the boys said they were trying hard to choke back the tears. We had been waiting for a good day where we had the time and good weather to head to Table Mountain. Today seemed to be perfect. Table mountain is an icon of South Africa and is considered one of the world’s most beautiful natural wonders.

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On a cloudy day, the clouds will linger low enough to completely hide the mountain. Today the skies were clear and we were able to see some fantastic views of Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope. We road this rotating cable car to the top of the mountain where we spent a few hours hiking around and soaking in the sights.

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We took a lot of cool photos from every angle. Each side has a completely different and beautiful view.

To the north, the city of Cape Town.

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The west, the ocean for miles and miles.

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To the east more mountains.

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And the coolest was the south; I could actually see the tip of Africa!

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Before heading back down to Cape Town, we split a bottle of wine. South Africa is known for their delicious (and inexpensive) wine.

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Oh and have I mentioned the beautiful sunsets?

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We had a very exciting dinner planed with those who have helped make this program possible. The principal of the school and his wife as well as our contact at Western Cape University and his wife met us at an authentic African Café. This place was so cool! It was beautifully decorated with colorful fabrics and exotic lighting fixtures. I loved this ceiling that had animals cut outs and lights shining through gave off a very relaxing vibe.

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The menu had assorted traditional foods from 10 African countries and was handmade with fresh seasonal vegetables from their home garden and local markets.  The servers brought out a sampling of each dish which we were able to taste, then we could order more of those we liked. Each food was unique and full of new flavors. The Mozambican prawns were HUGE! My favorites were the Xhosa Imifino Patties, they were spinach and maize patties that reminded me of something similar to a hash brown patty but WAYYY better. It had a spicy sauce for dipping.

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Many places in Cape Town had the same menu items that you could find in the US with a few new items sprinkled in. This place was really neat because we had the opportunity to try new foods that are native to the continent. It has the extra bonus of being able to try lots of things and have the option of ordering more of those we liked instead of ordering one dish and being stuck with something that was a little too weird for our American taste buds.

 

Back to Blogging

I apologize for the long break between posts.  When we were in Cape Town I was doing a good job about jotting down my experiences each night. After our last day at the school, I had a hard time writing down my feelings. Each time I pulled out my tablet, I would think about our time at the school and reflect on our friendships with these students. Knowing that I have probably will not see these bright teens ever again, and knowing that after the trip is over, I will go back to a life where I am blessed with so much comfort and luxury. Once back in the states, my life will move on. I will move into my own apartment, drive my nice car, start a wonderful new job, plan a beautiful wedding, and be able to buy everything I need and so much of what I want. Meanwhile, there are so many of our sisters and brothers are struggling just to get by. I wish there was so much more that I could do to share my blessings.

One thing that I would like to do to share what I have with others is to share the gift of a college education with one of the learners at Bellville South. I have talked with George and we are going to make it a priority to create a scholarship to send one learner to college. One year of tuition at the college we visited (Western Cape University) costs $1,200. Education is much cheaper than it is in the U.S., yet so many are still unable to afford it. Without education, the cycle of poverty continues.

After a few weeks of correcting jet lag, catching up with family, moving, and reflecting on my experiences, I am back to share the rest of a fabulous trip.

…Then ironically on my next post, my mother board crashed and I have been without a computer for the last week! I have been able to recover my files and am catching up now! Thanks for being patient.