Kruger

Our first night at the gates of Kruger NP we did a sunset drive of Kruger. We set off, literally at sunset, and spent the majority of three hours pointing at the bush with two spotlights from our full nine seater jeep. We saw elephants, rhinos, civets, bunnies, impalas… More impalas… Some birds, I think, then some more impalas…. 

And it was cold. Did I mention it was cold? After an hour of braving it in my hoodie and Thai fishermen pants, I asked for a blanket too. How cozy it was- a big, soft, wooly blanket to keep all that fresh Kruger air away from my skin. It covered me from my feet right up to my chin. 

The most memorable moment for me was when our guide Michelle decided to show us what darkness looked like- With literally just a flick of the switch, the world around us plunged into darkness. The blackness literally took my breath away. Utter silence. I couldn’t see anything in front of me. We were in the middle of nowhere, now. It was as if no one dared breathe, and for a second, all of us were animals in nature. We were all out for ourselves. If I didn’t have the blanket as a warmer I would have probably peed in my pants. Slowly, my eyes adjusted and I could make out a slight silhouette of the jeep we were in, and a semblance of a road ahead of us- not much else.

The next morning saw us up at 5am to get to the Malelane gate for 6am. We were wisely on time, because were the second vehicle to enter the park. The morning started off quite chilly still, despite having eaten from our hearty packed breakfast our Lodge provided us, we still snuggled under blankets. It’s true what they say about Africa. As soon as the sun disappears, the heat evaporates. We saw four of the Big Five, and lots of other animals in between, among my favourites being giraffes and zebras. Ohh and the waterbucks, with their toilet-seat imprints on their asses! 

What I enjoyed most, though, I have to say, is the camaraderie of the Rangers. There were an unspeakable amount of touring companies, all with their 3-4 guests (in our case we were just 2) in these big Toyota jeeps, clearly especially built for this type of off-roading. Solomon, our guide for the day, had quick chats with guides from other companies as well as guides just in the park chilling for the day as we passed them on tourist-specific paths. He would explain to us after every coded conversation- she’s a German guide, he trained me to be a guide, they both are here as guides, etc. 

This brings me to the coded language. The guides came from all over the world, and yet they all spoke in the same code. It was incredible. They might speak in English, Swahili, or Afrikans, but they told each other where the sightings were, what to expect on the road ahead and the like. My friend and I gave up asking our guide, ‘what is bobo?’ Or whatever code word they used for an animal when they spoke- he was not going to break the code. Solomon only broke rank by the end of the day, when a guide asked him if we’d seen buffalo anywhere. He couldn’t remember where so he turned to us, and asked us instead. 

But even out of the jeep- when we arrived in a picnic area for lunch, I was having trouble opening the latch to the monstrous vehicle to get out, and a guide from another company rushed to tug at the door for me, and then proceeded to remind me to take all my valuables with me- he didn’t have to do that, Solomon was his competition. Or when we were waiting for the lion to come out and eat her wildebeest prey, which she had conveniently killed right by the side of a designated tourist road. The guide of clearly a fancier company (nicer wheels yo) waited for other cars to give up waiting and drive off before shouting out to Sol, ‘baba, is there any cars in front of you?’ When the answer came out in the negative, he cheekily started making animal noises to try and get the lion to come out of hiding for the enjoyment of his guests as well as Sol’s. 

People that look after the park have clearly made it their lives’ work. They stay in the business, they keep coming back, even if it’s to do a joy ride themselves, because it’s what they know and what they are passionate about. So many times Sol would say, ‘he used to be a guide’. They have a sense of ‘you’re one of us’ amongst each other that is almost fierce in its practice- I would never DARE cross a guide/ranger. You’ll have the wrath of hundreds of them upon you within seconds. This makes me wonder- what is my circle? What is my ‘you’re one of us?’ Does it necessarily have to be such an organised group, or am I content with a smattering of people from my different paths in life, that I consider dear to me? 

I could sit and watch that activity all day, I find it fascinating. People, at the end of the day, are just like animals. We all want to be part of a herd, to be accepted, and to live happily and peacefully, and try not to get killed by a lion. We all face different kinds of dangers, and all are creatures of habit (seriously, a hippo will do the same exact walk every day for food, thus creating a path, which looks almost human like). We all want to make our mark on the world- some, like elephants are bigger than others, like steenbok… What cute little things they are. How you make that mark is a whole different question…

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The Taiwanese girl with the hairdryer 

How amazing is the Garden Route. So many things to do, and so many people to meet. Being here in winter has actually been really nice- no booking ahead, just playing it by ear. Every day at breakfast plans were made, and every day by dinner plans were changing again.
We were supposed to stay at JBay just two nights, which, as time went on and weather changed, turned to three, and last night was our fourth night. Maybe the drinking had something to do with it. But it was the most amount of people we’d seen all week. Even just the people that worked at the hostel alone would have been enough to make a small party- and oh, how much fun they are! I’m now officially not-bad at beer pong, and everyone actually knows how to pronounce my name.

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For a town that hosts one of the world biggest surfing competitions for just one weekend a year, JBay really is quite sleepy and… sleepy. Main street consists of three Billabong and Rip Curl factory outlet shops, and… well, that’s kind of it. We didn’t even manage to avoid the same restaurants! We only ate out three times!

But now that we’re done with the Garden Route, sitting at PEZ airport watching all the private propeller planes take off and land while we wait to board our SA/BA codeshare flight to Joburg, I want to make notes of a couple things.

Load Shedding- welcome to SA. Power goes off for a couple hours a day in an attempt to conserve energy. Sunday the power went out at lunch time, so we had to find a restaurant with a generator to have lunch, and also I’m not sure the Rip Curl trousers I bought are actually my size…they didn’t have a generator and I tried it on in the dark. Last night, our first mid-week stay evening, the power went off at about 715. Candles were lit, bar tabs opened, and the majority of the hostel came together, chatting and laughing, and playing drinking games until the light came back on. When it did, the music started pumping and a beer pong competition was started immediately.

Black v White- this is still a major issue… or, at least, to me it is anyway. All restaurants (bar one- maybe it was too posh for blacks) had black waiters, and white managers and even white owners. Why is that? Where were the black manager? Or even black owner? Yes, we did tend to stick to the tourist route, but why should that exclude blacks? A valet that works for one of the hostels made the same remarks about a group of 6 boys. 3 whites and 3 blacks- why did they split whites vs blacks when they played beer pong? Maybe it was an accident. Definitely maybe not.

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Friendliness- It goes a long way in this country. Friendliness here is beyond what we in the West are comfortable with, and I’ll admit, sometimes I was second guessing motives, but most of the time it’s quite genuine. I’ve been called ‘my sister’ and ‘bru’ more times than I can count! One bartender at the hostel even ‘walked me’ the 20 feet from the bar to my room because he ‘didn’t like the way that guy was looking’ at me, and APPARENTLY I was a few too many drinks in.

OK, now I actually got round to posting its bed time and my arms and neck super sore after taking a huge tumble while sand boarding the other day. And tomorrow we are up at 5am for a day safari in Kruger!! More thoughts to come.

Peace on Robben Island

Cape Town is a magical place.  I know becauuse, lucky me, I’ve been before.

People are friendly, literally ALL bartenders tell me I’m beautiful, and it reconciles with its past through the culture, the tour guides, the museums, and even the street art.  Of course there are also things that we would rather not see, like poverty. Our taxi driver (actually, Uber driver.  Uber is safer here) even told us that whille their governor is one of the best in SA, even she only looks after her own, her voters, so middle and upper class.  The way he aptly put it was, ‘she doesn’t get enough funding to deal the problems in the townships.’ Talk about diplomacy.

But today I want to focus on Robben Island.  It’s a major tick off my bucket list.  I remember reading about Nelson Mandela at 14.  He’s the reason I’m so interested in peace studies.  People here are quick to tell you that he wasn’t perfect.  He was quite violent- he headed up the armed side of the ANC when he committed acts of ”terrorism’. But in thee last years of his imprionmnet, he negotiated with hthe SA government to broker a peaace for a country that was on the brink of civil war. 

Anyone that has taken history will know about his story, and of the pain suffered at Robben Island.  There wasn’t direct torture, but back-breaking work in the quarry, only mats to sleep on, that was bad enough.  In the single cell sections (where Madiba also resided), there were only buckets for toilets once you were locked up for the night.  No writing allowed- when the prison guards found part of Madiba’s manuscript in the bushes of the courtyard, the hard-won privelegeto study was taken away from him. His punishmenett was 4 years no studying.  18 years he endured on Robben Islnd.  

But the tour that we got was not necessarily one of guilt or shame..  It was one of simply wanting to tell the truth, to share the story with the world.  

Our tour guide for the prison proper (an islnd tour by bus was also included), Ntando Mbatha was a prisoner himself.  He was much younger when he was here between 1984 and 1990, and while he is aged now, he still walks faster than a steenbok and tells his story with tour-guie precision.  He wants to show the world what it was like.  He wants to tell the world Madiba’s story.  He doesnt harbor any anger anymore, he wants to share thi part of history in his own way.  

In Peace Studies we talk a lot about reocnciliation.  It annoys me when people go, “Oh but Mandela wasn’t really peaceful he  was a terrorist really, until he won so it was easy to forgive.  Yes, it may be easy to forgive as a victor, but how to reunite a broken country? How to bring about lasting change? It was always going to be hard trying to reconcile violence with eventual frgiveness but on Robben Island you get a true sense of foriveness despite a long history of hate and angeer. Mbatha himself embodied that, and that is the main thing that I will take away.  

No matter the pain, the hate, in time, forgiveness will always come. In the form of preserving history, in the form of a renewed friendship… it is alwayss possible. Next time I come to Cape Town, I am going to do a private tour of Robben Island.  I want to ask more questions, I don’t want to be as rushed off my feet as we were on this tour.  I want to know how they came to forgiveness.  As they say, to err is human; to forgive divine.  

Airports 102

Second long trip in a month and I’m excited for this trip, so airports look more rosy. Except for the Chinese. God love em, and yes they’re messing up my country, and GOD they can be annoying. Behaving like mad dogs everywhere and anywhere they can. They tried to cut in front of me in the queue at customs and even at security. I don’t think so bitch. 
So, unfortunately, HK is no longer a favourite airport of mine. There’s too many of them blocking up paths and hanging in huge groups so you have to walk half a mile to get round, as if you didn’t have to walk enough already as it was. 
In comes Qatar. Now, I’ve read many scathing reports about Qatar, and I don’t doubt them to be true. Please note I’m NOT condoning the use of slaves or laundering money but damn that airport is nice.
It’s got a good central hub and a sky train INSIDE the airport that is noiseless. I was like ‘what is that big white thing up there coming towards me’ when I realised it was a train!! Amazing. And staff everywhere to help and point you in the right direction and generally hover. I’m not gonna lie, I do think that there might be a deeper meaning to that but I’m not gonna look into it for now- I’ve got 3 exciting weeks of travelling ahead of me I don’t want to be stuck on my iPad.
There was even a WH smiths and a Camden food company, to make Brits feel at home, and a Burger King. No maccy D’s though… And of course lots of high end shops. Shops galore! I’m not much of an airport shopper, especially as it’s brands brands brands and I’m not of the brands league. But everything is laid out nicely and spaciously. There is no shortage of seating at all, and even some areas where there are reclining seats!! 

Qatar Airways is also very nice. Inflight service on the long haul flight was great, lots of drinks and snacks and attention paid to you, and great food too. ANDDDDDD. Actual cutlery. Need I say more??