Leaving the Island

Cape Town is often considered the ‘gateway to Africa’.  Even with diverse backgrounds and beliefs, a common ideology when viewing the rest of the nation and the surrounding countries is present.   While Cape Townians pride themselves on uncovering truths and opening up deep conversations, the lack of the ‘rural-minded’ individual has instituted a specific story about various issues in Africa.

A local, outside of the Western Cape region, explained how Cape Town was an island and much of South African thoughts and desires failed to find their way to the city.  He proceeded to explain how most areas of the nation held their own distinct views of the nation and how the country fits into the world.

I had the chance to expand my horizons through a weekend girls’ trip to the East side of the country.  We were immersed in a vastly differing environment that confirmed and challenged much of the conceptions of the area that I had developed in Cape Town.

Durban:

We made our home base for traveling at the backpackers of Durban.  It was quite a different feel than Cape Town where if you acted confident and threw in lekker local jargon you could swing by for being a South African.  However, in Durban no matter how hard you tried you would always be a tourist since a greater demographic change was observed due to the large Zulu and Indian populations.

We explored the Golden mile: strips of beautiful coast that gave the city a Miami-like feel.  We saw large groups of locals dancing in the water-side with buckets.  It was later revealed that salt water is a known cure to get rid of negative spirits among the Zulu people.  While traditional medicine and coinciding practice is integral to life in Cape Town, often the traditions are not recognizable.  It was fascinating to finally view the traditions in a more open and clear manner.

We continued to explore the Durban city and saw the locals celebrate in anticipation of the football match being held at the past World Cup Stadium.  I love football culture; fans were driving around holding their team flags out of the window and cheering with vuvuzelas.  We continued onto the bustling Victoria Street Market.  It was quite exciting to experience the loud and fast-paced culture of bargaining and trade.

In the evening we journeyed to the House of Curry to indulge in the famous Indian Cuisine of Eastern South Africa.  I enjoyed trying the distinctly South African dish of bunnychow; curry placed inside a loaf of bread.

 

The following morning we traveled to the oldest Botanical Garden in South Africa and ate breakfast with prowling monkeys.  Luckily this time we managed to eat all our lunch without them taking a bite.

 

 

 

Pietermaritzburg:

About forty five minutes from Durban, in the city of Pietermaritzburg we were immersed in the history of the revered figure of Ghandi.  It was at a train station that Ghandi first was woke to the ideas of racial prejudice and injustice.  He was thrown off of the train for residing in a ‘Europeans Only’ car while dressed in professional suit attire.

Prior to entering the nation, Ghandi held truths regarding Black Africans similar to the colonizer.  Entering, he realized that this conception of African people was not correct.  He fought on behalf of Indians and all who were being oppressed by the power holders in South Africa’s society.

   

Phoenix Settlement:

We managed to travel into the Phoenix Settlement township in the outskirts of the city to view the preserved grounds of Ghandi’s house and newspaper center when he was in the KwaZulu-Natal region.  It was amazing to see the beginning of his efforts to fight injustice in a peaceful manner.

 

Lesotho:

Waking up early in the morning, we drove to the kingdom of Lesotho; a country completely landlocked in the nation of South Africa and untouched by the likes of apartheid.  On the country roads it was fun to see the ‘Rural Stop-Lights’; sheep and cow herders.  It was also incredible to view the mountainous peaks covered in snow in the distance.  I had traveled three hours and went from swimming in the tropical waters to viewing snow.

We hired a driver to take us up the Sani pass; winding roads that could only be trekked with a 4 by 4. Slowly the flowing waterfalls transformed into frozen pools.

We entered the kingdom of Lesotho and viewed the village surrounding the highest pub in Africa located at the top of the Sani Pass.  It was sad to hear that the area was dying out since the youth were traveling to the city and not returning.

After lunch we made our journey back down the road, awed by the gorgeous views and treacherous winding gravel terrain.  I was glad to explore ‘two islands’ during the weekend to broaden my perception of southern Africa.

Looking to the Future (the Outsider Perspective)

On one of the many historical tours I have joined in South Africa, I had a gentleman say that “because we [the touring group] were from the United States” he could “reveal insight that he doesn’t bring up with white South Africans” since we were “outsiders and wouldn’t be offended to the truth”.  This comment truly made me understand the still existent racial boundaries in the present nation as he delved into the ‘black Zulu’ perspective of living through apartheid and the aftermath specific to the Kwazulu Natal region of the nation.

Although tension is often high between racial groups even to this day, efforts are being conducted to curve this backwards thinking from ALL parties in the years after legalized segregation.  One such strategy was the production of the Apartheid museum (that I was lucky to visit in Johannesburg), where all racial stories were expressed in relation to people’s identities.  Additionally, I found my IES sponsored tour to the infamous Robben Island to be a beacon for hope in the years to come with regards to race relations.

Robben Island is well-known for its brutal working conditions imposed upon the prisoners along with its position as being the ultimate prison similar to the likes of Alcatraz.  Sitting almost 14 kilometers from the coast of Cape Town, the icy water and sharks prevent escape.   Only one record of successful escape was documented occurring in the seventeenth century.  In the past fifty years, this island was the center of much global discussion (near the end of apartheid) when Nelson Mandela and lesser world-known freedom fighters were finally released.  Today the prison has been preserved as a place to remember the hardships of the past and steer visitors to imagine a positive future for South Africa.

We were lucky to be able to hear the preserved stories of a past political prisoner. Our group started the journey to the island by taking the ferry from the Waterfront.  We took a guided bus tour to view the developments on the island. At the center was a quarry that past prisoners had been forced to work upon.  It was in the shelter of the cave, during resting time,that prisoners were transformed.  It was during break times that conversations took place that altered the history of the nation.

Our guide explained how many consider the island a ‘college’, whereby individuals of various backgrounds with strong differing opinions were forced to converse and develop a common understanding.  The political prisoners were mixed with the criminals; as criminals were released back into society, they themselves had become political activists against apartheid.

Our tour led us to walking inside the halls of the prison.  We saw the cell of Nelson Mandela and many freedom fighters who helped end the struggle in 1991. We were exposed to the altering mindset of the first democratic president of South Africa as it was explained that the young Mandela refused to ‘renounce violence as a means to end apartheid’.  It was in time reflecting in prison and conversing with others that Mandela altered his strategy to conduct a future without violence or revenge against the oppressor but rather with peace and reconciliation.   This transformation in thought of a revered leader demonstrates the human capacity for change in the path towards racial reconciliation.

While a little over twenty years have gone by and much progress has been achieved there is still much work to be done.  The fight for equality has been picked up by the youth; activism has begun at the collegiate level.  During my time at the University of Cape Town I have observed the general call for decolonizing the nation.

The end of apartheid successfully ended legal segregation; however, neighborhoods in present society are still mostly grouped by race with co-existing socio-economic statuses as during the likes of apartheid.  Additionally, the university is a learning environment geared towards the rest of the world.  Much of the student body feel like the establishment is ashamed to be located on the African continent.

Much frustration arises from the fact that classes revolve solely on Western ideology and the promise for free education is out of reach as tuition is continuously increasing.

Sitting at the center of campus up until 2015 was a Cecil Rhodes statue commemorating his donation of lands to supply the university with property.  However, Rhodes was a dominating colonizer who spared little concern for the local African people.  Students found his ‘presence’ on the campus disheartening and sought to remove the statue.  Protesting reached new levels under the banner #RhodesMustFall.  A national phenomenon occurred when the campus responded to the movement by in fact removing the statue.

This sparked further motivation in the students as the call to lower fees was necessary along with the addition of more housing for students.  The campus currently only has around 7,000 spots for residents and hosts around 30,000 students.   Last semester the #FeesMustFall protesting shut down the school for a month and in response the government placed a hold on pricing.  Although small acts of student activism were observed this semester, the call to decolonize was predominantly discussion based.  With the government due to release the following years tuition we will see what the future brings with regards to next semester.

While I was in Cape Town I was in a situation where, in addition to student frustration with politics, the entire nation was upset with the actions of the President.  Piggybacking off of the student-led movements, a national march broke out across the nation under #ZumaMustFall.  This march extended into smaller regions of the country, even in the wine lands of Stellenbosch.  With the reshuffling of office members by President Zuma coinciding with the rand (national currency) being deemed junk status as the national treasurer was removed, the likes of all races came together to show their disapproval.

The ability for all races to come together to stand up to a common cause gives me hope for the future of the nation.  I believe my discussions around students reflections and transformation in the aftermath of large scale student movement was life-changing.  I don’t want to have to return home as an ‘outsider’ to hear the truth of people’s stories.  I want to be open to continue paving the pathway towards understanding in my own backyard.

The Smoke That Thunders

After the IES trip was sadly over, I had the amazing opportunity to continue my adventures into Northern Zimbabwe to the global phenomenon of Mosi-oa-Tunya (meaning ‘the smoke that thunders’ in the Shona language or more commonly Victoria Falls!)

Victoria Falls is known for being one of the natural wonders of the world and the largest (widest) waterfall on the planet. The power of the falls during rainy season was observed from my plane ride in, as the mist reached towering heights.  Locals explained how the mist could become so strong that they would receive rain showers in the closest town located more than a mile away from the falls.

I was so excited to walk the scenic trail that contained 16 vantage points on the Zimbabwean side of the falls.  It was crazy to walk more than a mile to view the entire length of the falls.  Since it was the rainy season, the powerful falls created mist that resembled a torrential downpour.  I became soaked walking along the path as rain came from all directions.

 

While the walk along the ridge of the falls was amazing, by far the best view was from the air.  I was lucky to experience this when I ventured into Zambia to catch a Micro-Light Flight over the falls 🙂

 

 

  

It was breathtaking to see the entirety of the falls, the snaking Zambezi River, and miles of green bush.  Additionally, it was fun to spot the elephants and hippo pods from above.  As we made our way back for landing, my pilot allowed me to steer the motorized plane 🙂

Our group transferred from Zimbabwe to Botswana for a camping adventure in the bush of Chobe National Park.  We arrived and began our day with a boat cruise on the Chobe, where it divided the countries of Botswana and Namibia.  The scenery was magnificent and the waters were alive with animal activity.

 

 

 

  

We neared a resting hippo pod and our driver explained how we needed to maintain a large distance since hippos have been known to flip boats.  We were lucky to view an elephant swim from the shore to snack on food in the marsh.

  

After our cruise, we transferred over to a safari vehicle to drive out to our campsite deeper in the park.  It was fun to view the animals in their natural habitat as we made our way to the camp for sunset.  Nearing our final tenting point, we saw a hyena and Kudu.  To make our experience more nerve wrecking we heard lions roaring in the distance as we had dinner around the fire.  Although frightening at times, it was surreal to fall asleep to the sounds of nature.  Our guide assured us that a lion’s roar can be heard from over 10 kilometers away so he thought we should be safe.

We woke early in the morning to search for the lions and unbelievable found them at a watering hole 🙂  They were maybe two miles from where we had slept, so crazy!  Sadly, the lions were attracted to the point by a deceased elephant.  Our guide explained how lone elephants were more prone to being hunted by prides.  Last nights roars may have been them taking the elephant down.  However, he also mentioned that poachers have been known to poison watering holes for easy kills; this also might have been the cause of his demise.

It was incredible to view the cubs interact with their moms.  As everyone was taking pictures, someones phone slipped out onto the ground.  The driver sneakily crept on the backside of the car to retrieve it.  He safely returned to his seat without the pride realizing he had gotten out of the vehicle.  It was only when we went to leave the scene that we spotted the two dad lions sleeping in the bush maybe ten feet from where the guide had stepped out!

The extended trip was a great conclusion to spring break 🙂

Adventure and Reflection

The next segment of the IES Spring break tour led our group to a ‘lazy’ rafting trip in the outskirts of Nelspruit; a mountainous and lush landscape about an hour from Kruger National Park.  We wet-suited up, due to the cold, but were confused when we additionally had to wear helmets.  Turns out, the river was no longer lazy with the excess rains.  In fact,  this rapids journey ended up being one of the scariest but thrilling adventures that I have ever experienced.

A couple of years back I went white-water rafting and loved coasting over the rapids.  Looking back I think it was the addition of a guide on the raft that aided in my ability to focus on the fun and ignore my inner fear of falling out of the raft.  On this river, we were given a single tube so I no longer had this luxury.  Luckily, I got over this worry real fast as my first rapids found me spiraling down the river without a paddle or my tube.  Although slightly terrified, it ended up being one of the best adrenaline rushes yet.   It was an extreme roller coaster that was super fun!

Along with floating down the rapids, the journey was heightened when we hiked in the rain forest to bypass dangerous rock formations in the river and jumped 20 feet into a pool to go around a waterfall; it was so beautiful!

Although there were mixed feelings about the activity, I think it was cool that we were able to get through safely as a team 🙂  The students in my program have truly become a family away from family.

After our morning adventure we made our way to Johannesburg to tour the Apartheid Museum.  It was quite a change of pace but necessary in order to capture the diversity of South Africa.

The commonly interpreted apartheid struggle of ‘black versus white’ was deeply explored in the museum whereby the intersection of human lives, skin color, and a turbulent political environment was explored leaving you with feelings of sorrow but a lasting call for hope.

To enter the museum a ‘skin tone status’ was written on your card as either ‘European’ or ‘Non-European’.  You could only go in the door that corresponded with your card.  You could not control if you would be split up with your friend or traveling party.  This start of the museum simulated the separation of individuals (even among family members) during apartheid based on peoples uncontrollable factor of skin color.  Through this entrance, exhibits explained how the Nationalist ruling party had researched a variety of oppressive society’s to form the ‘perfect’ segregated nation.

While the many terrible actions during the regime on both sides of the spectrum were depicted, the museum also commemorated the working efforts of the many individuals who fought against injustice.  The work of Nelson Mandela was pivotal to the rise of democracy; however, his coming in to power would never have been possible without the efforts of the everyday South African.  It is to these courageous people that the museum  pays ode to.

It was quite refreshing to view newspaper clippings of current politics and  actions in protest to the highly controversial ‘past freedom  fighter’ President Zuma.  The museum expressed all of the nation’s history no matter how ugly and with total truth in these clippings.  The current post showed the awareness of political matters in the South African people.

This political awareness seen at the museum and also in my time at the University of Cape Town leaves me with hope for the future of  South Africa as I have viewed on multiple occasions  people talk about politics and uncomfortable topics freely.  There is something amazing about individuals from ranging back grounds and political opinions coming together in a civilized manner to discuss ways to reach a common ground that could make a world comfortable for all members.

The Kruger National Park (Spring Break Adventure Part 1)

My second IES sponsored field trip was an adventure to the east side of South Africa, starting at the world renown Kruger National Park!  What a great way to start off spring break 🙂  We set off for Mpumalanga on a short airplane ride and were greeted by our safari vehicle and guide.

 It was fun to find that our accommodation was a tented camp just outside of the protected national park.  I woke the next morning to the snorting noises of hippos making their way to the river outside of our camp.  Our group piled in the game vehicles to make our way into the park for sunrise.

We drove deep into the park, taking dirt roads to find the desired big five; the rhino, the lion, the buffalo, the leopard, and the elephant!  Our guide reminded us that we could not control nature.  On rare occasions he was lucky to see the famous cats of Africa, but many days he didn’t even see an elephant.  On those days, to entertain guests he would follow the path of dung beetles.   Somehow the stars were aligned for our  game drive.  I had no expectations of seeing a big cat or a hunt, but timing was on our side.

   

We had many encounters with the “true King of the savanna” (or I should say Queen) the mighty elephant.  Our guide explained how these animals were ‘truly remarkable’; they could remember almost everything and had the power to recreate the landscape (mostly to flatten it) as they walked across the land.  Additionally, they remained in herds ‘ruled’ by the powerful matriarchs who sometimes had to kick out unruly males (a lone male is pictured below).  These teenage elephants would find a new herd or eventually return to their group after ‘maturing’ or the addition of a new female to the group.

As we journeyed from the back country to the paved road we ironically saw an animal barreling in the distance.  It almost looked like a bear with its awkward lumbering jog.  As we approached I comprehended that I was actually 10 yards away from a hyena.  It was so cool to see an animal not common in zoos or conservation centers in its natural environment.

Nature can be misunderstood, which is why we were disgusted when our guide acknowledged that the hyena had eaten wild dog scat on the roads.  She did this to maintain her scent in the area and he hypothesized that she was returning back to her little ones after being familiar with her on previous drives.  Our guide explained how hyena’s were often thought to be scavengers (after a quite popular Disney movie had damaged their reputation) but he had seen them first hand take down a zebra.  He went on to say that we could return to Kruger multiple times over our lifetime and still never see a wild dog.  There were only 400-500 wild dogs whereas there was 13,000 estimated elephants.

We turned the corner to a lake memorized by the fact that we just saw a hyena and what do you know, there was a wild dog!   Not just one, but a pack, and they were on the hunt.  A formation of dogs took charge against the water bucks feeding on the other side of the water.  It felt like I was watching an epic Medieval battle as we realized the dogs were not the only ones on the prowl.  Sitting in the water was a giant crocodile and agitated hippos!  The dogs ran the bucks for a long time until there only escape was to cross the water.  We saw the territorial hippo charge at the bucks alongside the nearing crocodile… The hippo became super agitated towards the wild dogs for having the bucks disturb their area and the massive guy surfaced.  In this moment the crocodile took his shot and sadly took one of the baby water bucks to the depths.  It was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen; I don’t think national geographic could have captured all the aspects of the hunt.

 

We knew nothing could top what we had just seen, but the addition of new animal sighting just made the day all the more special.  As pictured below, we also saw giraffes, zebras, a rhino, and warthogs.

 

   

We finished off a great day with additional excitement.  At our dinner, a monkey quickly ran onto our dining table and stole my friends meal, it was quite hilarious.  As we made our way back home, five minutes from the gate we were privileged to view a strolling cat cross the road.  We had traveled deep into Kruger to see big cats, yet here was the most elusive cat in Africa, the leopard, close to ‘civilization’.  It had to be one of the best days of my life 🙂

  

To New Heights

At Hope, I do my fair share of hiking and exploring.  With that being said, the most fatiguing trail I really climb is the Mt. Pisgah Dune Boardwalk where you walk up a series of steep stairs to a gorgeous overlook of Lake Mac and Ottawa beach.  These small hiking ventures did not prepare me for the extensive mountains of Cape Town.  It has been an adventure building up my ‘mountain tolerance’ in the hopes of accomplishing the Three Peak Challenge before I head back to the States.

In my first week of class, my RA organized a group sunrise hike to Lion’s head with assurance that I would make it back in time for my 8 am class.  This hike was known to ‘be easy’ and would only take ‘forty-five minutes’.  Not quite knowing what I was getting myself into, being that our group left in the dark, I was super excited to get my first aerial view of Cape Town.

Immediately, I knew I was in for a challenge as the flat ‘easy’ gradient was as steep as the streets of San Francisco.  Our group was quite surprised to the level of difficulty after being told it was simple, but we worked together to make it up the incline, the ladders, and the chains attached to the mountainside.  It was tough in the dark but it was a thrilling experience and was the first of many mountain treks to come 🙂

As we approached the summit, the call to prayer echoed across the Bo-kaap valley.  When we finally reached the top it was refreshing to view the sun peaking out above the mountains.  Unfortunately, this was our clue to start making our way back down.   Our hike took much longer than the expected forty-five minutes, and we were even jogging down the mountainside at some points, but we all made it to our first class.   Just a normal day in Cape Town…

Table Mountain:

Our next house adventure was to take the journey up the New Natural Wonder of the World, Table Mountain.  Although there was a cable car, we decided to take the steep walk up Platteklip Gorge to the summit.  It was far more exhausting than Lion’s head but the views were phenomenal!  I now understand why CapeTownians call Lion’s head ‘easy’.

Lion’s Head:

Of course we had to journey back up to Lion’s head, this time during the day and with proper hiking attire.  No matter what time of day, this peak is my favorite viewpoint of the city;  you can see the Apostle peaks and the famous Camps Bay in addition to the city bowl and Robben Island.

Devil’s Peak:

By far the longest peak to climb was Devil’s peak; it took us seven hours to reach the summit! Near the end, I felt like I was in ‘nature’s ball pit’ as we climbed with all fours in sliding rocky terrain.  I was proud that we had made it to the top after our RA revealed that we were just the second group of abroad students to finish the hike all the way through on the first try.

Hopeful for Three Peak Challenge:

Before I leave I hope to accomplish the three peak challenge where you summit all three peaks in the order of Devils peak, Table mountain, and Lions head in just one day (left to right in the picture below).  I think, after many individual climbs, I am ready to take on this crazy adventure!

Skeleton Gorge:

In addition to climbing to the summit of the many mountains, there are a variety of other natural attractions just as beautiful.  We took the skeleton gorge trail to the opposite side of Table Mountain to view a retention lake.  On our way up, we climbed up a waterfall and passed goats on our trail.  The protea, the national flower of South Africa, was beautiful in bloom.

On the top of the mountain the trail flattened and we made our way to the water.  Near the shore, I saw a large wasp take down a giant spider which was quite crazy and terrifying since I had only seen that on the Discovery channel!

                 

Wally’s Cave:

Again I journeyed up Lion’s Head to find a well known cave that was off of the beaten path.  The path was really steep but the view was unbelievable once at the cave!

  

Three Peak’s here I come 🙂

 

The Beauty of Sports

Molweni!  Sorry for taking so long to post another blog.  I am happy to declare that I have been having a great time here in Cape Town and have found myself immersed in fascinating discussions and outrageous adventures.  Through the limited Wifi and taxing essay assignments, I have sadly been lax on sharing my experiences via blog.  But I’m so excited, with school winding down, to share the activities that have become a normal part of my life these past couple of months 🙂

The weather has turned quite chilly.  It is beautiful, refreshing, and crisp; like my favorite Michigan season of Fall.  In true college fashion, when walking outside my mind automatically associates the weather with football season.  Although football season is not present in South African culture nor the actual American version of the sport, that has not kept me from getting involved in an array of other sporting events.

It has been quite fun playing volleyball for the university team and joining the abundant pick-up soccer games at the field in walking distance from my residence.  Additionally, I have journeyed up to campus multiple times to watch the Ikey’s UCT (University of Cape Town) rugby team battle it out in a game (I’m almost ashamed to admit) far more action packed and intense than American football.  These players have no helmets, no pads, and no ‘downs’. It’s quite thrilling to watch!

In addition to these collegiate level sports, which aren’t nearly as recognized as in the United States, I sought sporting venues off the campus bubble to watch the professionals take to the ‘stage’.

It was so exiting to watch the Kaiser Chiefs (Johannesburg soccer team) play City (Cape Town football squad) in an epic match at the Cape Town stadium, the iconic field from the World Cup in 2010.  It was one of the closest games I’ve watched and City thankfully won in the last thirty seconds.  The stadium erupted in happiness!  The vuvuzelas’ made their presence loud and clear.

While the IKEY’s games at campus were fun to watch, it was great to be immersed within an energetic crowd; like the one that was present at the soccer match.  But the combination of a great crowd and an intense rugby game made for a new level of experience!

With my IES program I was able to see the local professional rugby team, the Stormers.  Rugby, similar to football in Europe and ‘football’ in the United States, is treated almost as a religion. The stadium was packed, the vibe was lively, and the players were delivering a great show!

The entire crowd was on their feet and the air was electric with competitive spirit and energy! It was a tough game,  good plays from both teams were made, but we ended up triumphing over the New Zealand team.  My night got even better when I realized that I had made it onto International television, being one of the members of the crowd on the live footage! There is no doubt that sports can make you feel enhanced emotions of elation and frustration.  Sports can make you cry in defeat, can make you laugh in frustration, but most importantly can make you celebrate as a united front.

In my newfound fondness of rugby, I found that an emotional history coincided with the emergence of the sports popularity nationwide.  The white dominated sport during apartheid had become a uniting platform during the 1995 World Rugby Final, held just a year after the first democratic election of Nelson Mandela and the lifting of sports related sanctions.  In a stadium full of a majority white South Africans, Mandela came running out to support his nation as the first black president in a traditionally ‘white man’s game’.  As my IES instructor said, ‘for many, starting in that moment, Nelson Mandela had become the president to the entirety of South Africa’.

When the Springboks went on to beat the New Zealand national team, the majority black population was alongside their fellow white South African population cheering for the victory.  This story enhances my love for sports and the many world wide cultures that go with them.  The same spirit that can make you hug a stranger after your team scores a goal, can also unite a  nation; even if its only just for a moment.