Archive for the 'Landscape Pictures' Category

12
Oct
09

The Garden Route

Bungee jumping off a 711 foot bridge

Bungee jumping off a 711 foot bridge

I need to apologize for not posting for the last few weeks. Things have been pretty busy at work and I just haven’t made the time I should have to post. I promise to post more often – not that it’ll be this long or any kind of substantial post, but I’ll post more. The plan for these next few posts is kind of a blast – 3 or 4 posts about my last 3 weeks here, broken up by week. Read at your own peril – they’re long.

Anyway, two weekends ago a giant group of 19 of us took off work for a long weekend and went on the Garden Route – the typical tourist trip everyone who interns or studies here takes. It’s a scenic drive along the southern coast of Africa with stops at all kinds of tourist beach towns. I’ll just copy a rough outline I sent a good friend a few days after the trip rather than type it again – excuse the rough writing, it was a 5 minute slammed out summary, and parts of it definitely don’t meet my normal standards.

Wednesday night:

The view from the hostel at Mossel Bay

The view from the hostel at Mossel Bay

I was in Googs (a township) at a Hoops4Hope seminar for the week, and was planning on getting a ride with two girls when I was done. I had my boss drop me at the police station right off the highway, and I sat down with my book and backpack and read while I waited for the girls. I was the only white person within 10 miles, and a group of cops walked in with M16s and full tactical gear on while I was sitting on a bench outside the station. A couple of them looked at me curiously and nodded when I acknowledged them.

I rode with two girls from my program – Hannah is British and Grace is Australian, but for the life of me I can barely tell their accents apart. All the highways here, once you get out past the city, are one lane. Slow cars typically move over and let faster cars pass on the right, and occasionally a second lane pops up for a few hundred yards so people can get over safely. Hannah almost killed us trying to pass a semi on the left in one of the bonus lanes, but we lived so no harm done. She drove the whole time because her car is a stick and she rented it – everyone drives sticks here, just like in England, but none of the American kids here know how to drive them.

A couple kids rented automatics, but they’re really expensive. Also people drive on the wrong side of the road here, and the drivers seat is on the opposite side of the car too. It’s weird to change gears with your left hand. Anyway, we lived through the ride and made it to Mossel Bay, specifically to a hostel right by the beach, at like 11. We went out with everyone in this little town with one strip, and it was a pretty fun time. We all slept in big dorm room style rooms, with bunk beds and grungy mattresses.

Thursday

Picture 485I woke up at 7:45 and ran on the beach for 30 minutes. There was a cliff path up to a lighthouse and this muskrat/badger thing literally followed me up the stairs, running up rocks to watch me as I made it up each step. It was hilarious. We then left that place and drove to this place I can’t type but its something like Oodstrorn, which was more inland, with caves and nature reserves. First we went to this nature reserve where there were alligators and crocodiles and lions and tigers and hippos and wallabies and all kinds of awesome animals. We couldn’t touch them since most are dangerous but it was still cool. Picture 345

Then we went to these caves and hiked them. I did the adventure hike with Hannah and Daniel, an architect student from Canada. It was this hike through these GIANT caves – so giant Coldplay tried to have a concert in these caves a few years ago. They used to hold classical music concerts in the caves in the 70s and 80s. We made our way through the main caverns where they had concerts – these suckers were hundreds of yards long and a couple hundred feet tall, with stalactites and stalagmites all over the place in amazing formations – and made it to the little ‘adventure’ passages.

Daniel, Hannah and I at the caves

Daniel, Hannah and I at the caves

We hiked through 9 inch wide passages and up into 2 foot tall holes that you had to then scamper on your knees through a 15 foot long tunnel that was 2 feet tall. Then we had to climb up an 8 foot tall passage that was like 15 inches wide. I barely fit through half the tunnels, and I wasn’t the biggest guy in the group by a long shot. Then we had to slide on our bellies through an 8 foot long tunnel and then go down a 5 foot rock slide headfirst. Humidity in the caves was around 85%, and by the end of the climbing and scampering we were all sweaty and pretty grungy. Afterwards we went to this restaurant in the town, where I ordered an ostrich alfredo pasta dish. Ostrich meat is like beef with a tiny bit of chicken mixed in – very delicious and not too expensive. Going to dinner with 19 people is an adventure – particularly when the bill comes – but it was a fun night.

Friday

This was one of the most ridiculous things I've ever done

This was one of the most ridiculous things I've ever done

I woke up at 7:45 again and went for another run through this little town with amazing views – mountains in the distance and barren African landscape in the front. Then we went to an ostrich farm, where there were ostriches everywhere. Did you know you can stand on ostrich eggs. Picture 454They’re the same amount of food as 30 regular chicken eggs, and they taste just like them. We were walking through the ostrich farm and the guide says ‘This one is mating now, you can tell by his orange beak and feet.’ And that sucker just ran over to this female literally right in front of us and proceeded to jump on top of her and take care of business. It took maybe 20 seconds of sitting on top of her and grabbing her neck while we’re all frantically trying to snap pictures and laughing hysterically, and he then he ran away. One of the funnier moments of the weekend We got to sit on them if we wanted – I’m too big to ride it, you have to be under 155 lbs cause of how skinny their legs are, but my roommate Tom rode one. It was also hysterical, awkward, and definitely worth the trip. After we left the ostrich farm, I ended up driving a car to our next stop – Plattenburg Bay, about two hours away.

I took one of the automatics, and drove on the wrong side of the road through mountain passages and over 10 mile country straight-aways and over giant bridges looking over the Indian Ocean. Basically it was the coolest drive I’ve ever done, and I was driving a mid-90s BMW on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road. We went out at this AMAZING seafood restaurant that had the best calamari I’ve ever had for $2.50$. Food here is dirt cheap, and we eat a lot of it. We all went to bed early that night because the next morning was…

Saturday

Second 4 of the 5 second free fall

Second 4 of the 5 second free fall

Bungee jumping. We woke up early and went bungee jumping at the worlds tallest commercial bungee jump. We left at 9 a.m. and went off the bridge around 10:30. The bridge spans over a valley that feeds right into the Indian Ocean. The drop is 216m – over 700 feet – and it takes 5 seconds of free fall to reach the bottom. I’ve never been more terrified in my life, but it was an absolutely amazing experience. I didn’t really think about what I was doing until I was strapped up and carried to the edge. By the time I realized I was about to jump off a bridge, I was already falling. For the first two seconds I knew I was going to die, but then reality kicked in and I had the time of my life. Its like the feeling of going down the Dragster at Cedar Point times 100 – free fall from that height is incredible. The euphoria when you get back on solid ground is incredible. I’d do it again in a heartbeat – backwards, forwards, jumping, whatever. Easily the most insane thing I’ve ever done. I still can’t get over it, almost three weeks later.

Picture 540After bungee jumping we went to a nearby monkey sanctuary. There were Ace Ventura monkeys EVERYWHERE. My roommate bought a coke can and then saw a monkey so he reached to get his camera and in the meantime another monkey ran across the room, jumped on his picnic table, grabbed the coke can, and ran into the trees to drink it. He found a spot like 30 feet up and started slamming it towards his mouth like he was trying to drink it for 15 minutes.

On this ridiculously unsafe suspension bridge at the monkey sanctuary

On this ridiculously unsafe suspension bridge at the monkey sanctuary

They pay a guy to run around the eating area with a water bottle and chase the monkeys away from people. While we were sitting there, some kid came out of the food shop and when he opened the door a monkey ran in, grabbed a candy bar from the shelf, ran out of the door and into a tree and started the eat it. The guy who was chasing them with water got really mad but the monkey was too high to get hit. It was awesome. They just ran by on the paths or hopped off trees right by us or all kinds of ridiculous shenanigans.

Just me petting an elephant

Just me petting an elephant

Afterwards we went to an elephant sanctuary. We bought food to feed them – orange and pineapple slices with some lettuce and carrots – and got to walk with them. Feeding them was amazing, their snouts are like vacuum cleaners. They ate oranges – whole – and 1/3 pieces of pineapple, skin and all. It was amazing. I was feeding this little guy(probably only 1.5 tons and 10 feet tall), his snout would suck it up and he would bring it under and put it into his mouth. They were HUGE and never satisfied with food – basically they were mini-Big Tymes. When I was feeding this one guy another one crept up behind me and put his trunk over my shoulder and tried to eat out of my hand. His trunk was just hanging out on my shoulder. We got to walk with them, even the babies. Elephants rule. Afterwards we went to the seafood place again and I got the most amazing tuna steak. Seafood and meat here are on par with the best I’ve ever had in America, and it’s all substantially cheaper than in the States.

Sunday

Petting a wallaby

Feeding a wallaby

We woke up and drove the 7 hours hom. Our car almost died an hour out of Cape Town, and we had to drive in second gear the rest of the way home. It was pretty funny – we were riding in an old, old Volkswagen hatchback. I rode home with Tom and two other guys, it was a pretty boring ride but I did manage to finish The Forever War by Dexter Filkins – a New York Times correspondent who was embedded in Iraq and Afghanistan for about 10 years. I’d highly recommend it, one of the best books I’ve read in years. More about the last two weeks in the next post – sorry for the crazy length of this one!

28
Sep
09

Playing Catch Up

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The last week and a half have been incredibly busy. This place is starting to feel like home. I thought when I first got here and heard Tom say he was sick of this place or had seen enough of that place that I wouldn’t do that – that this place wouldn’t get old or familiar to me. Now I know better.

I pass the same people on my walk to work, which in this town isn’t always the best thing. Do I want to be the well kempt white kid walking with a backpack the same route every day? I dress down for work – today was a sweet Hoops4Hope t-shirt I got my first week here and a pair of jeans. I don’t take the nice briefcase I (thanks Mom) bought right before I left, because it screams AMERICAN WITH A LAPTOP and that’s not exactly the vibe I want to give off. The beggars and street people here are everywhere, and they stay in the same place every day. Every morning I pass a group of 7 guys posted in a doorway outside a nice bookshop right around the corner, and another group of 5 guys on the corner of a church about a mile from here.  They could be day laborers waiting for someone to drive by and offer them work, but the couple times I’ve left work early I’ve found them at the same spot, just posted on a ledge. I just walk like I know where I’m going, and if someone stops me to talk to them I look them in the eye and act as polite as possible, while pushing forward and moving on. Most people don’t bother me, and once some people realize I’m American sometimes I get a smile and a laugh about something.

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Last Friday I took a crash course on the unsavory sections of this city. Valerio’s mom came to visit him for two weeks, and we got Ravic and Lavouyo – two of our coworkers – to drive all three of us around the townships and give us a real tour. We drove through a couple of the rougher areas around Gugelthu and Khayalitsha before we stopped at one of Lavouyo’s schools. He’s an All-Star in our program, which means he coordinates the Khayalitsha district’s programs, working directly with the MVPs at the individual schools to make sure everything runs smoothly. He makes weekly stops at each school with a program, passing out uniforms, making sure the MVPs and referees (often MVPs from nearby schools) know what they’re doing and have things running smoothly, and doing a little bit of coaching.

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We stopped at one of his nicer schools because he needed to drop off some kits – the term H4H uses for uniforms – before the two boys and girls games.  Barbed wire fencing surrounded a well-kept Southwestern style school, with outdoor courtyards and classrooms that opened up to exposed passageways. African flowers and trees shadowed our walk into the school. A group of girls in their school uniforms played on a pile of old battered plywood off to the side. Behind the school was a brick basketball court, with uneven tiles and old beaten hoops, sans nets. The hoops rose at least 11 feet off the ground, and I paced the court at 49 yards – or around 50 feet longer than a regulation court.

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The girls played the first game. Barefoot, wearing donated jerseys originally owned by a team of under-10 Canadians, ten girls ran up and down the court to the cheers of at least 40 other kids, all of them whooping and hollering at every turnover and every foul. The basketball fundamentals on display were terrible – one team relied on their tallest girl cherry picking, and the guards gunning for steals and then throwing the ball blindly as far as they could in the direction of the tall girl. More often than not this meant a turnover, and a fast break back the other way. Sometimes the tall girl would catch it, take a few dribbles, and heave a layup six feet over the basket, taking hacks and slaps from the defenders the entire time. The refs operate under a ‘no blood no foul’ streetball refereeing style, letting everything but a straight mugging or what is probably considered some form sexual assault in at least seven US states go without as much as a slight admonishment.

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The boys played next, and while their fundamentals were a little bit better, their basic skill level was about the St. Ann’s Youth League’s half court under-8 league, and these kids were about 13. The final score of the girls game was 6-4 and the score through three quarters of the boys game was 7-2. I guess that explains why Disanga Diop sucks. I walked around while the kids played, snapping pictures and talking to some of the little kids watching the game. A few of the boys were dribbling a ball, and when I asked them to pass it to me they immediately wanted me to try to dribble around them.

Once I showed that I could actually dribble a ball, the first kid – replete in a khakis, a handed down polo from a Catholic middle school in the Boston area, and a bandana tied just under his knee to show his gang affiliation – wanted to take me one on one. He didn’t speak any English, but smiled when I popped his crossover to the wall. The kid tried to go between my legs at least 6 times, and at one point even tried to throw the ball over my shoulder, off the backboard, and back to his other arm. None of it worked – playing on a Rec team with Marcus Monroe and one on one with Sean and Frank taught me, usually after getting thoroughly embarrassed at least ten times by the same trick, how to stop those kinds of shenanigans, but the kid kept trying. He seemed like one of the tough guys of the group – the other kids were noticeably quieter around him, and played up his successes and ignored the times I stole the ball from him. It was an interesting experience – Lovuoyo told me after we left that he keeps trying to get that kid to join the program, but every time he signs up he misses too many practices and doesn’t show up to games or our life skills lessons. His gang affiliation, through older brothers and neighborhood friends, has already sucked him into the downward spiral that’ll leave him in the townships his entire life. His chances of graduating high school, because of the role that gang is playing in his life already, at the age of 13, are around 15%. Statistically, he’ll probably drop out within 3 years, start using drugs if he hasn’t already, and amp his drinking up substantially – all of which will stop him from ever holding down a legit job, leading him to crime. His life expectancy, especially in a country with close to a 25% AIDS infection rate, is probably around 30. That kid, bandana and all, and all of his buddies are our target – the focus of our program, and the reason I found myself playing one on one on a Friday afternoon at an elementary school in a South African township.

Picture 194

The next day brought with it a beautiful morning. I was up at 6:30 a.m. watching the sun rise over the ocean. The group I’m living with was working in a township for the day, building a government funded house as part of an Irish Habitat for Humanity program. Since I’ve been on a Habitat trip – New Orleans Spring Break 2008, I jumped at the chance. We took a bus over to pick up another group of Westerners, and headed out to a nicer township. It was the first time in a township for most of the kids I live with, and it showed. They were taking pictures of mundane things, gawking at the shacks and the people walking around, and in awe at the utter despair and the terrible conditions. (Obviously I was never that naïve, and never took any pictures like that or thought any of those things, previous posts and pictures excluded.) We split up into groups of about 10, and headed out to individual lots. The government recently started a rehabilitation fund for people in townships to upgrade their homes with free houses, as long as they can show that their current home – most often a shack put together with pieces of plywood and aluminum – didn’t meet the established housing standards. Once they were granted a house, they had to go through the process of getting someone to build it. The organization we volunteered with builds houses all over the township we were in, using the government money to fund it. The money goes straight to the organization, who then builds the house. The residents just have to move their shack to the back of their lot, to make room for their brand spanking new free house.

Picture 227

Our job was the build the exterior walls. To do that we had to mix what South Africans call duga – mortar – and use it to put up the cinderblock exterior. We worked with two contractors, who supervised us through their limited English and with what I assume was more than a handful of Afrikaans curse words. We built the house up from a flat foundation to the window level – about 4 feet in 5 hours of work. Not bad for a group of Americans with zero construction experience. At one point I was carrying cinderblocks off the pile and into the house, so the people putting up the walls didn’t have to go get the heavy blocks every time they needed a new one. While I was doing this, a kid from a house across the street was leaning against one of the electricity poles, watching me. He didn’t say anything, but I nodded to him and he gave me a little nod back. He was probably about 14, skinny, with a buzz cut and a Nike tshirt on. When the organization gave us waters at our break time, I walked over to the kid and gave him mine. I don’t remember his name, but I do remember what he asked for: my Live Strong bracelet. I shook his hand and he immediately looked at my bracelet, and after he introduced himself he just flat out asked for it. Luckily I had packed three with me, in case one broke, so I figured what the hell. After I explained that I wore one in honor of my mom, I took it off and handed it to him. The smile on his face made the day worth it.

Picture 223

I spent the next day hiking Lion’s Head – the smaller mountain next to Table Mountain in the pictures of the skyline I put up earlier. A group of six or seven of us went out on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, guided by clear skies and 70 degree sunshine. The hike itself is pretty easy. It takes about an hour to do it walking, and the toughest part is a set of chains hanging off a ten foot sheer wall that we had to rappel up, using footholds and handgrips to help. It was a lot easier than it sounds, and took me about 10 seconds to scale. The girls had a bit more trouble, but I had a great time. At the top of the chains I randomly met up with my friend Ravic and his friend Monene, a fantastic random meeting. We climbed the rest of the way with them, and Ravic proved to be as adventurous as I wanted to be. We climbed off the path a couple times on the way to the top, hurdling and scampering up nine and ten foot rocks every time we spotted one next to sheer drop offs. It was fantastic – and not nearly as unsafe as I’m making it sound, I promise (Mom).

Picture 265

The view at the top is absolutely mind blowing. Camp’s Bay, the City Bowl, ten miles into the Atlantic Ocean, Table Mountain, the harbor – its all right under your feet. The picture right above this paragraph is the view of the city and the townships off into the distance. My apartment building is the tall one about an inch to the left of my right elbow. The huge pool of water to my right is the city water reservoir, which has a 1 km running lane around the edges, a lap I’ve recently begun to take advantage of.  The picture at the top of this post is from the other side of the top of the mountain, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean and the rest of the downtown area. There are more pictures on my facebook of this hike and the view – you should be able to look at them here(second album with pictures from the township and my hiking) and here(pictures from my first week), even if you don’t have a facebook account.

More later about my Garden Route weekend and the employee development training I spent the week at last week.

07
Sep
09

The Rainy View

My building is a 20 story apartment building right in the heart of downtown with a gym and the tiniest pool you’ve ever seen on the roof. These are mostly pictures of the side of the city I can’t see from my window. Table Mountain dominates the skyline behind my apartment, and forms what is called the City Bowl here, as the Mountain slopes downwards and creates a de facto bowl that houses most of the city’s white population. The neighborhoods behind my building up towards the mountain are all pretty nice, full of manor houses and residential neighborhoods.

Behind the mountain and off to the side are the townships, where most of the black and colored populations live – coloreds in South Africa are any kind of mixed race citizen. The city is still largely segregated, mostly because of economic issues. The City Bowl properties are extremely expensive, and many black and colored families simply cannot afford to move into the area. Many of the townships are dangerous, filled with drugs and all the trappings of extreme poverty, and there are beggars and homeless throughout the city. However, my apartment building is in the City Bowl, right near where the business district starts and the residential area stops.

There’s really nice views of the city from the top of my building, which I would show you if it hadn’t rained the entire time I’ve been here. So you’re stuck with crappy pictures of the view, full of clouds and rain in the distance. But you get the idea, and it’s pretty awesome. I’ll put up better pictures when I get a nice day, but its supposed to rain tomorrow too so don’t get your hopes up yet.

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The view of the right side of the mountain from the top of the building. Notice the Lion King-esque trees on the right.

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This is off to the right when the sun came out. I think the trees are really cool in this picture

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It was sorta cloudy. This is to the left of the first picture, and is actually Table Mountain, a giant mountain I'm hiking at least twice, hopefully soon.

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Same picture, with less clouds. Still can barely see the top though.

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The sun came out, so I took another picture of the view from my window. You can see the ocean a little bit in the distance, and if you look closely *ahem* you can see the rain moving off to the right under the clouds.