Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It got better.

Well, we wrote a decent length post about how things got better and we did some lovely hiking and even posted a photo of Debengi Falls, but somehow posting via Picassa didn't actually work and we lost the post. Suffice it to say, life got better, traveling is more fun, we've been hiking near Blyde Canyon for a day now and traveling here via minibus was very easy due to helpful people. Now we're deciding how long we want to hike here, if it would be easier to do an organized tour of hard to reach places in Namibia and Botswana, where to go in Swaziland, etc.... Hmmm....

Trees are nice.

Look, we really are here together! 

View from the Graskop day hike.

Tall trees rock.

Forest Falls near Glaskop.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Well, that was stupid.

We open this entry with an apology to our worry-wart parents, siblings, and friends. We’re fine, just dumb.
South Africa is turning out to be different than we expected, mostly due to a series of poor decisions on our part, and the fact that prices went up during the 2010 World Cup and never went down. We arrived on Wednesday evening and decided to get a SIM card for our phone at the airport to make coordinating logistics easier.  In some ways not getting one there was smart – the guy was charging us 100 times the actual price. But the reason we didn’t is that a Dutch Harbor SIM phone does not work with a South African phone. Ooops. Got cheap phone and card the next day, but now stuck with other phone, too….
Our hostel the first night in Johannesburg was skeezy and the only other occupants seemed to be a drunk couple that we never met having loud sex and a grumpy traveling sales man.  We decided to relocate to Soweto. In route we spent hours trying to understand apartheid at the city’s exceptional museum. (Though the museum was inexplicably attached to an amusement park/casino…)

Soweto is a black township created outside of Jo-burg during apartheid and is actually safer than Jo-burg itself. We camped two nights at what was touted as one of the best hostels in South Africa. Turns out the “campsite” is a patch of dirt under a very bright light next to rooms full of loud Germans and around the corner from the loud party music and bonfire. Are we getting too old for the backpacker scene??
While in Soweto we took a rather nice bicycle tour of the historic sites where the student uprisings took place, musicians’ homes, Nelson Mandela’s old digs, and other local “color.” The guide and the history were great. Lunch was pleasantly bizarre. It consisted of a slightly hollowed out chunk of bread filled with cucumber salad, chili sauce, French fries, an egg, and a slice of cheese. The other local color was visiting a shabeen, or a tin hut with benches around the edge where people sit and drink (very similar to the mud huts where people sat and drank in Tanzania). We were herded into the shack with six other tourists to “meet the locals” and drink the local beer.  The two old men in the room seemed uninterested in meeting tourists, and submitted unenthusiastically to having their photos taken. (Wouldn’t you for a free beer?) The entire encounter was so contrived that it was more embarrassing and awkward than culturally enlightening. Other than that bit of stupidity, the bike tour was nice, and we learned a good bit about the oppressiveness of apartheid.

Here’s where our own stupidity came into play. When deciding where to go next we found out about a cool trail system with huts through the mountains with a fun-sounding backpackers reasonably close by. We were completely done with the city, so this sounded ideal and our hearts were set on it. Not being sure we could get bus tickets to the region, we didn’t book huts and just focused all of our efforts on getting tickets out of the city. We were told we had to pay for them that night, so we hopped a minibus to Park Station in downtown Jo-burg. Then it started to downpour. Then we got stuck in traffic for over an hour. By the time we got to the bus station it was getting dark in a not-so-safe part of town. Oops. We got to the ticket counter safely only to find out that their computer system was down, and we could not purchase our tickets that night anyhow. Using our cell phone, since their phones were also down, they called the office elsewhere to extend our purchasing deadline. Next we went to the information counter to find out where to catch a minibus back to Soweto. Her answer was straightforward, “Don’t be stupid. You’ll get mugged. Take a taxi.” So we did. (So much for a daily budget.)

The next morning we were extremely grateful to have spent the money on a cab. While walking to the bus station from where the minibus dropped us (three blocks away), we were constantly approached by people seeing if we wanted help. One particularly insistent “helper” was with us for almost an entire block, mumbling the whole time. He was much closer to Jeanette, who was having trouble understanding him and just tried to ignore him. At one point, however, his words penetrated, and it became clear that he was saying “Give me your cell phone and wallet. I’ll shoot you. I’m telling you I’ll shoot you.” Jeanette kept replying, “We’re fine. We don’t need any help,” and pretended not to understand. Anne had no idea that this was going on, just that Jeanette grabbed on to her elbow and started walking faster. He eventually stopped following us. Thank goodness he didn’t really have a gun.   

We made it to the bus station, got tickets, and got the hell out of the city. So here we are in our lovely humid mountain backpacker getaway with no public transportation, no promised pizza oven and hiking trails (stupid free guide book), no way to contact the trail office on a Sunday, and information from another guest that the hut system is full and had to be booked three weeks ago. Ooops. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll get some good news from the trails office, otherwise we’ll day hike and head out of here soon. Limpopo region is very beautiful and we’d like to explore more, but it’s very difficult to navigate without a car. However, we’ve learned important lessons about planning ahead, and it’s still really nice to be out of the city. Also, South African vegetarian sausages are really good, which is great, since we’ve had them for three of our last four meals.    

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In South Africa

We've successfully arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa after three hours of sleep to get a flight from Tampa to Atlanta, a bizarre, sugar-filled trip through the Coca-Cola Factory (what else do you do with 10 hours in Atlanta on minimal sleep?), and a 15-hour flight straight from Atlanta to Jo-berg. Needless to say, we're exhausted and probably ought to figure out what we're doing the next few days.... Well, getting here on buddy passes was half the battle. :) (Thanks, Michael!!!) We'll keep in touch. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Highlights from the Midwest and Florida

Before the Africa part of our trip begins, here are some highlights from the Midwest and Florida part of our trip (aside from seeing wonderful family and friends):

-Experiencing my first tornado warning ever (sirens were going off and we went to the basement and everything).
-Going to the St. Louis Arch and the City Museum, a giant indoor/outdoor jungle gym of reused junk and fake caverns and many other things.
-Going to an actual denture clinic with Anne to get her flipper adjusted.
-Getting to two new states: Missouri and Iowa.
-Taking four kids under the age of 10 camping (we are NOT having children).
-Seeing the guy who played Tom Riddle in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in an off-off-off-Broadway version of Black Swan (sadly, only Anne saw this).
-Mixing the germs from one niece and one nephew to create an awesome new superflu in my body.
-Having my sister cut my hair while hearing such expressions as “oh my goodness” and “oh Jeanette, I’m so sorry.”
-Realizing we leave tomorrow and today is our last day to get everything done.