Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Shark Video

A quick look at a shark from inside the cage, thanks to Ben's underwater camera.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sharks!!! - Breanna

OK, fine I’m still here. Thank gosh.
You should have seen me the night before and the morning of. I think all the stress of this whole event and leading up to it has made me sick with a sore throat, stuffy nose, horrible cough and stomach ache, not to mention my mind running wild with horror stories about sharks. Not liking that at all. Ben, the brat, did something really mean. A few days before the actual shark dive he pulled up some shark attack videos on Youtube and said “Hey Bre, check this out! Hahahah” Great, just great, a woman getting her leg chomped off by a GREAT WHITE SHARK. Perfect, that’s exactly what I need to be watching. “Not funny. I’m going to have nightmares”. I was alright on the 40 min drive there because it didn’t seem real. Does that make sense? Once I walked in to the lounge area and office of the gathering house I saw about 30 different pictures of massively huge Great White Sharks and their jaws wide open with rows of sharp teeth and a big TV with shark videos playing in the background. None of this was helping at all. Well, that’s what you get when you are going shark cage diving. Duh Bre, be realistic, what did you expect flowers and rainbows? Come on. Good lord I really am going to die. Yes, of course that’s what I was really thinking. I can’t help it.
We all ate breakfast, signed a waiver, got a small run down of what was going to happen and then led down to the boat launching site. That’s about the time I started freaking out. I was choking back tears the best I could because I didn’t want to look like a complete wimp. Next, I was trying to hide the tears but that wasn’t really working either. I was moving the equivalent of a very tired slow snail. Maybe I wasn’t even moving. I don’t really know. Dad and I were far in the back of the group. I was seriously having troubles. I’ve been more than terrified of sharks my entire life and this was walking towards to my worst nightmare, where the greatest concentration of Great White Sharks is on the planet. Omg omg omg. I can’t do this. Why me? I don’t even want to be on the boat let alone be in the water with sharks. The tears came faster and I definitely wasn’t moving another step. Dad wrapped his arm around me and said something encouraging which I can’t remember; I don’t think my ears were working just then. I was seriously ready to throw in the white towel. But before I knew it Ben had me by the arm and was pulling me forward.

Tune in next week…..after I regain my senses.

Of course I wouldn’t do that to you.

Then again… maybe I would. ahaha


It took about 45 min to reach the shark point. Once the anchor was dropped, the workers poured fish blood and guts into the water then tied a large fish head to a rope and threw it about 15 feet from the boat slowly pulling in the line to act as bait, within minutes a large dark shadow in the water was spotted. Oh great. “Wetsuits on!” the guide yells. I was pretty slow at doing that too. I was definitely in my own little world. “Brrrrr”….cold wetsuit, that’s never enjoyable, now is it? Some trip I thought.
After a little while everyone was in wetsuits except one, I noticed Ammon was sitting at the front of the boat still in his clothes. “What the…?!?!” If I am expected to do this there is no way he is getting out of it. “What’s with you?? You can’t chicken out. Get your skinny, non-existent butt in that wet suit.” He isn’t going?? Why not? Oh he’s sea sick… Hell, why didn’t I think of that?? Idiot...good one Bre.
We got the run down about the cage and all that. Not very comforting. First group in the cage was Kees (again taking the lead) and 5 other people. One worker would keep pouring in fish blood and guts to attract as many sharks as he could. Another crew member would keep throwing the fish head line in and another guy would be watching for sharks and when they came close enough to the bait he could call out “go under” and the 6 heads would dunk under for how ever long they could hold their breath or until the shark was out of sight. During all of this I was still on the upper deck watching. You know, just keeping my distance for a while. Ok, first group finished after about half an hour. Next in was Mom, Dad, Savannah and Alex from our groupie plus two other non-groupie people. Alex and Savannah were constantly laughing and screaming saying “oh man, I feel sorry for Bre” –Savannah “Yeah she is going to die” –Alex. That was mean. They were having a swell ol’ time teasing me and someone always making the Daa Da, Daa Da, DaDaa Jaws theme song. Such nice friends and family I have. To keep my mind off that I just kept asking if it was cold. “Yeah but you get use to it”-Mom and crew say. Well that’s somewhat good news.
OMG, MY TURN. Lucky number 3. I’m so nervous. “Mom feel my pulse.” It was Me, Ben, Dad and Kees plus 2. Dad and Kees got to go again because there was extra space and everyone had already gotten a turn. So this is it. Zip up my hood, strap on my goggles and dad puts the extra weights over my shoulder to keep me down as I slowly walk over to the edge. Peak over and see Ben down in the cage reaching up for my hand with a big smile on his face. “Ha-ha to you too.” Someone was patting me on the back saying “You can do it Bre, just go”. Deep breath. One leg in…and then the other one, up to the waist now. “Holy Crap that’s cold….you liars”. They laughed.
I definitely started to panic once the water reached my shoulders and I was eye level with the choppy ocean. How do I explain that? I tucked myself into a ball, stalled, couldn’t move, desperately wanted to climb out at an amazingly fast speed, body heating up, heart beating off the charts out of control and the tears came again. Maybe it's all those nightmares of being in the water, alone, in the dark and in the distance you see a shark fin headed straight in your direction and you scare yourself into waking up. I closed my eyes really tight, wishing I knew how to wake up and be somewhere else. After a few more breaths, which felt like forever, I managed to steady and calm myself down a little bit.
Once everyone was in, the guy threw in the fish head again along with the blood and guts. The cage isn’t very big so everyone was shoulder to shoulder but I was huddled up against Ben while we waited for the call. Then it came. “Everyone down, look left”. Gulp of air and down we went. Usually goggles get foggy and you can’t see clearly but noooo not these ones they were perfect....Dang it. I saw everything. AHHHHHHHHHHH I SCREAMED underwater and the bubbles raced up. There was a 12 foot Great White Shark not 4m away swimming around. Poor Ben. I had a death grip and a half on his arm. I came up fast and said HOLY **** ,A ******* SHARK!!!! (Sorry grandma, I couldn’t help it. There must be some kind of exception for this one)
“AHHHHH.OMG OMG OMG!! This is crazy”.Only seconds had passed before the strong voice yelled “Back down looking right”. Back down. This time I stayed longer. Back up, breathe, next call and down again.
After a couple of times it became fun trying to see a Great White Shark for as long as possible. I was super high alert with all my senses working over time. Just because I say that it started to get fun doesn’t mean I let go of the death grip I had on Ben or got any closer to the cage bars. My one hand holding on to a bar to keep me down was plenty enough. After a while it became more like a Universal Studios roller coaster thriller ride of some sort with the boat rocking in the waves, the goose bumps running up and down your back, the water splashing in your face when you come up, the yelling and gasps from above and the sounds of the cage crashing into the side of the boat all mixing together was something else entirely. The first time the cage crashed into the side of the boat it freaked me out because I thought a shark had hit it from behind. Everyone was looking forwards at the big ugly fish head on a rope instead of behind you and that’s how it always happened isn’t it…it gets you from behind.
We (the third group) definitely got the most action and sharks. “I told you that would happen”. I did say that “As soon as I get in that cage lots of sharks are going to show up”. I’m sure they could smell the fear all over me. But it worked out great in the end because right when the guy yanked on the fish head rope, a shark leaped out of the water right in front of us and chomped like crazy on the head, pulling the rope farther into the water until the head was fully devoured. Woah that was a sight. Cool. Glad that wasn’t me. Yiiikkkes. I survived!!!!!! Wahoo!!! I did it, now let me out. Ahahah
Writing this all down after it's all done and over with is funny because I feel like such a baby chicken wimp dork. Just telling it how it was, that’s all. I hate to admit this but it was a good experience and I don’t care if you make fun of me, I’m still afraid of sharks. Lol
Most of us stayed in our wet suits until we got back because it was warmer that way. Dad, Ben and I were on the top deck laughing and having a blast in the wind and jumping for more height when we went over the huge waves. We drove past some of the 60,000 Cape Fur Seals that live on Geyser Rock that borders world famous “Shark Alley”. Most of the Great White Shark documentaries seen on TV are filmed at this location. Wow. There were so many seals it was like a fast food drive-thru made for sharks. lol
Got back to the reception area, took a shower, changed and had a big lunch. Afterwards, we all got to watch our adventure of the day on the big TV screen. That was funny. Awesome! So yeah that’s pretty much it. If I can do it you definitely can.
Still alive and kicking,

Friday, July 25, 2008

Caves, Penguins and the Southern Point

We have been so busy and as Bre has said, we have done a lot. Bungy jumping had to be done because it is the highest, ostriches riding because it is just too weird. Now I will tell you what else the week has offered.
Our next adventure after the ostriches was to the Kango Caves. I really have always loved caves and I have seen a lot of them. This one is the largest in Southern Africa (we have been to Mammoth Cave the world's largest in Kentucky). We decided to do the adventure tour because we always feel up to a challenge. This was great fun, with squeezing, sliding, belly-crawling, ducking, hunching and lots of contortion activity. Kees almost got stuck at one point but was able to suck in his chest " just a little more" and squeeze though. The cave was really pretty with plenty of stalactites and stalagmites to see as well as great passages for us to wiggle though.
Next I got to tick off another item from my to do list, this being, seeing penguins in their real home. Ever since I was in grade 3 and having read Mr Popper's Penguins I have wanted to see penguins. So we went off to see the African Penguins (or Jackass penguins, nicknamed for the sound they make) at Stony Point, Betty's Bay, SA. The penguins are just as adorable as i was hoping they would be. We walked along a small boardwalk right through the middle of their little colony of a couple thousand. We sat inches in front of a new mother and her two chicks and then were able to see the dad come in from fishing and change posts with the mom. She went off to sea while he feed the tiny chicks. It was really incredible to see. As cute as the parents are the young-uns are ugly. At sunset we watched the hordes of penguins coming in from the ocean, after a day of fishing. We also were able to watch a large seal capitalize on the homeward-bound penguins. It really was sad to think of the lonely spouses and offspring of the seal's meal waiting and waiting for their own dinner that would never arrive.. But this is nature! It isn't the south pole (even though it feels cold enough to be) but it's still a huge group of penguins outside of a zoo. We spent several hours just watching. Stoney Point really is beautiful. We also watched Southern Right Whales playing in the water just a couple hundred meters out; lots of tail waving and breaching to see. It happens to be the migration time which makes it perfect for seeing whales just off shore.
Finally we've made it to the Southern most point in Africa, Cape Agulhas, this is also where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean. Again it's a gorgeous spot to see the sun set. Now we can only head north!!
There really is a lot to see and do here in South Africa, but we really should have timed it better and come in the summer to fully enjoy it all because we are just trying to keep warm most of the time and missing the feel of its beauty.
Bre will tell you all about the shark cage dive.
Take care my friends,

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ostriches - Breanna

Our field trip to the ostrich farm began with everyone (all 10 of us) piling into Kees beast and driving on over. Our tour was about an hour and a half of fun! I really liked it. We started out learning about the ostrich leather and how to identify and tell the difference between a real and a fake and feel the difference in texture.
Moving on, into the next room was where we were shown all the many different feathers. Females have many kinds of feathers, each of them are individually unique like finger prints where as the males feathers are all the same. Hum interesting.
We were shown how they made feather dusters and other ornaments that were being sold in the gift shop. The guide explained the differences in qualities and how they would be used. The finest ones they use in feather boas used in the fashion industry (like the show girls in Vegas would have) and the lower grade quality could be used in anything from feather dusters to fluffy pencils and crafty toys etc.
Then some interaction with the ostriches started. Feeding time! That’s always fun. They loved the dried corn pieces we had for them. They were hungry creatures indeed. “That’s a very strong peck you’ve got there. Ouch.” It’s kinda freaky with this massive messed up ugly big bird head and long neck coming at you like an out of control fire hose. One second you have a handful of corn and the next peck it’s gone. One of the dumb things chomped on four of my fingers. Not a surprise but still shocking. “Ahh” Everyone laughed at me, of course.
Once we had enough of that we were taken over to the breading pen where one male and female would mate and take care of their eggs together. When entering the pen the guide told us “In case the male comes over to you in a threatening, attacking kind of way, drop to your belly and lay flat, once you do that you are not a threat to him, all that will possibly happen is that he will walk over you then leave”. So to prevent this from occurring she carried a huge thorn branch with her saying that ostriches don’t like you to be bigger than them because they need to protect their eyes and will quickly leave you alone. Their brains are smaller then their eyes. That’s really small for the side of them.
Anyway, we went over to look at the 16 eggs that were in the hut nest and get the scoop about them. Did you know that the mother lays 1 egg a day and won’t sit on them until all the eggs are all laid, only then will the incubation period of 42 days begins? How strange is that?
1 egg is equivalent to 24 medium size chicken eggs. Woah, that’s a lot. These egg shells are hardcore tough and can withstand the weight up to 100 ish kilos. It was really weird when we were allowed to go ahead and stand on them. Stood on an ostrich egg, yep, that would be a first for me. Cool.
Because the farm is mostly for meat, most of the ostriches are running around in a big pen together. Every day the eggs are collected and taken to the incubators until they hatch. Once the baby ostriches arrive they are given over to the parenting ostrich couples. The cool thing is that one couple will accept up to 100 adopted babies and take them in and raise them as their own.
Then finally the real fun started at the riding area. It included a big pen with about 10 ostriches roaming around, one tour guide, 2 workers to help and 20 of us “students” sitting on the small bleachers watching, waiting and listening to the instructions. First, who ever wanted to just sit on an ostrich to get a warm up feel before the ride could do sot. Before you mount, the workers would run over to an ostrich, grab it by the neck, yank its head down and throw a bag over its head and immediately the ostrich would stand still. The mounting is done while it’s in a smaller pen so it can’t run away until you are properly positioned, holding on tight and the workers giving the go and quickly yanks off the bag covering their eyes, then you’re off, set loose to run around on a ballistic ostrich. The ostriches are pretty crazy especially when fuelled by a smack on the ass by the handlers to add to the fun, which was quite amusing.
Ben was first. Omg ,that was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, I was laughing so hard I cried. I could hardly hold the camera to take pictures. At least I wasn’t the only one laughing; everyone was busting a gut at how ridiculous he looked with the big bird under his butt gallivanting round and round. It was really weird and super fun to try and I wish it lasted longer. Seems like any time you are having heaps of fun it ends and is all over far too quickly doesn’t it? You had to hang on to the wings and lean way back and hold on tight with your legs. Really strange. So everyone but Kees, Ammon and dad tried. They don’t know what they are missing. Hahah. I have wanted to ride an ostrich for eons actually. I mean, who does that? Now that I’ve done it I can say been there done that. Wicked. You’ve got to try it some time.
Only one problem now though, the next big thing for me cage diving with sharks. I’m not looking forward to that at all because I am terrified of sharks. Possibly write about it if I survive.
If you never hear from me again you can blame this crazy group of people I am still with. They are so mean and are constantly making the daa da daaa da daa da Jaws music to freak me out. I’m going to die. Nice knowing you….

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bungy Jump - Bre

Bungy Jumping adventure!!!

At the beginning of our Africa trip I told Ammon a couple of the things I had to do: the highest bungy jump, ride and ostrich, have my hair braided the African way, etc and that he was to somehow make that happen and voila, he’s kept his word as the trusty leader he is!! Yey!!!
For the past week all I really have been able to think or talk about was when we were going to bungy jump. Having the travel company at home was cool because I got to watch loads of terrified students make the jump off the bridge (50m) and come back with smiles across their faces. I’ve always wanted to do it but I was too little at that time and never got the chance until now. Lame. On the other hand there is a big upside to the wait and the difference is that for my first jump it’s the highest in the world and I get to be with the best group of people too!!!! The bridge is 216m the third highest bridge in the world and the biggest in Africa. Woah Man,.. I know! Talk about skipping straight to extreme!!! Wicked! I can definitely say I was the most psyched, hyper gung-ho person there. Heehee! What?? I couldn’t help myself. Yes, I had the exciting nervous chills running down my back as well but that’s all part of the fun. The brave contestants included Kees, Dad, Moe, Ben, Me, Mom and Savannah. Emma, Ammon and Alex stayed behind to watch instead. Getting harnessed up felt more like getting ready to skydive than what we were about to do. Moe is a crazy goofball and wanted to do the jump in Emma’s pink thong but wasn’t allowed to so he ended up tying it around his head as the alternative option. Hahha I think it was his way of giving himself Super Hero Man Powers of some sort. We teased him lots, it was hilarious!
Before the actual jump we decided to do the zip-line under the bridge to the centre of the arch where all the real action would be taking place. The zip-line was a good warm up. The bridge has such a beautiful view all around. It is above a canyon with mountains in front of you when you jump and it opens up to the ocean behind you. I was enjoying myself top notch and swinging around like crazy. Kees was first to bungy jump, he did a great job of representing our group. Then again its not like we had a choice, the guy in charge was calling us at random basically. In order it was Kees, Dad, Savannah, Ben, Me, Moe and then little Mom. I think watching Savannah disappear off the edge was the biggest eye opener. OMG this is really happening and she just did it! Soo cool. Just made me more excited. Poor Ben, I laughed my head off at the face he made. I don’t want to embarrassed him too much but he was pretty dang nervous. Lol When it came to my turn my heart started to beat faster.. With my ankles tied together and 2 men lifting me closer and closer to the drop saying “ Toes over the edge” I realized the moment of truth has come a little faster then I’d thought and my heart skipped a beat….or two. Lots of pictures were taken and a video too of everyone’s jump. “Smile at the camera and 3….2….1….. Bungy!!!!” They yelled into my ear. The thing is you are totally committed once you reach that edge, there’s no stopping it and as soon as that count down reached bungy you really have no choice but to, well, exactly that bungy jump. Face your fears and do it. I love the saying that was on the crew members’ shirts. “Fear is temporary, Regret is forever”.
I couldn’t really even think, everything seems to happen so quickly. I did a big gymnastics arm swing and jump for the farthest distance I could get. Actually, I was the one that dropped down the farthest on the cord. You don’t really fall the whole way down and they said it was a drop of about 180m. That exact moment when your feet leave the bridge, you are completely alone. Stomach lifting feeling and freefalling down towards the water everything just kinda stops. OMG what a feeling that was. Complete rush. Held my breath for the freefall and let out a loud whooping scream the rest of the way down. Hahha Awesome! It’s definitely reassuring when you feel that pull on the rope that holds you up. Bounce bounce and hang. Uh, all the blood pools in your head and your eyes feel like they are bulging out of your face for a little while but that’s ok because the guy who takes you back up is there in no time. I couldn’t stop laughing and smiling. “That was so awesome!!! That was so freakin wicked, Wahhooohooohooohooo” I think I said that about ten times or so in a row while hanging there. Ahah absolutely loved every bit of it. I could have gone another ten times in a row if I could, I had so much fun. It’s hard to explain everything so just do it for yourself and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
I’m really glad our group was able to all be together for it, that made things so great because everyone’s fear and excitement was bouncing off each other the whole time.
After that challenge was complete we head off to find the next one. Ostriches here we come!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

South African Impressions

We’ve been here for about two weeks now but I’m beginning to suspect that no matter how long I stay here, I’ll never be able to understand South Africa or its people. It’s just too complicated and with a mentality that is totally different from that of Canada. Coming from the rest of Africa, I’m even more confused, disgusted and dismayed by what I see. There are just so many contrasts. What am I talking about? Mostly the racism and the social structure. The very complicated and bitter history seems a bit much for me to grasp, especially since I don’t belong to one of the sides involved, but from what I’ve been reading (I just finished a book covering part of it) it reads more like the American Wild West than anything else. Cowboys and Blacks, and a rapid expansion leading to the wholesale slaughter of numerous tribes who vigorously fought back. Throw in the British fighting the Boers (the earlier Afrikaans settlers) and Apartheid and I’m tempted to give up on these people. I have been surprised with what I’ve seen and it’s been very interesting and enlightening but I’m just going to get myself into trouble commenting on it all.
With its highways, supermarkets and stripmalls, skyscrapers, super gas station stops, ranches and meat-eating obsession (which IS really tasty), mixed black and white population and landscapes reminiscent of the American southwest, we are constantly thinking we are in little America. It gives me a whole new meaning to the term “African-American”. Since arriving we’ve been enjoying the luxury of an organized system. But it’s a system that is organized differently from what we’ve been used to lately and for the first time in a long time (though we saw the first traces of it in Windhoek) we find ourselves in a place more generally hostile than before. “Wait a minute.” you say “What do you mean ‘more hostile’? You just came through the dangerous central African countries. Now you are in a developed country”. Well, that’s exactly the problem. It’s just like the Europe or at home in that the day to day interactions are more aggressive and hostile. There is more road rage and people honk at us a lot more for being slow, have a tendency to complain about the little things more and are generally a lot more impatient. That’s probably a lot our fault though because we are so used to not having any rules that we’ve become a public menace. You should see the way Kees drives in town and how the rest of us line up in shops. The crime is a huge concern here obviously and we are constantly told to be careful, but at the same time it is also the little things mentioned above that make a huge difference.
Maybe I am having a psychological problem not being identified as a tourist immediately anymore and treated as such. Because there are so many local whites living in the country people have a tendency to think you are one too and so will start off conversations in Afrikaans and not English and just generally assume you should know what you are doing. I think I like the feeling of being lost and having people help me actually. Now, the whites talk to you but the blacks don’t. Before it would be obvious that you were a tourist but now we could be local and because of the racism, when you say hi or wave to blacks they just sort of ignore you or scowl a lot of the time, especially near cities. Not our usual warm welcome! That’s very annoying. It’s why I liked our 24 hours in Lesotho because the black people there would welcome you more. Maybe that is a stupid thing to say and I’m worried that I’m developing a complex of needing attention and being treated like a celebrity. I don’t know that I’d do too well if I came home right now…
At the same time people here can be very kind if you get out of the touristic areas. On our first night after leaving Pretoria, somewhere north of Lesotho, we randomly asked an old guy coming out of his farm’s driveway if we could camp on his property. He said sure and then brought us fresh eggs and milk in the morning. Local whites seem to love the truck and when we are fueling up or parked somewhere they will come over and start asking questions and want a tour of the ins and outs of it. They wave or give us a thumbs-up as they drive by and people have voluntarily offered to lead us to the hostel we’re looking for when we enter a new town. Very kind, but these same people will complain about the blacks and the system and warn us in so many ways that their country has gone to hell if you sit and talk with them for a while. As an example, we saw so many HIV awareness signs in West Africa but now that we are down here in southern Africa, which has the highest rates in the world, I think I’ve only seen one sign. Also, with all the wealth and development down here it is really sad to see the huge townships on the outskirts of even small towns where the poor blacks live in obvious poverty. It’s one thing to see it in a poor country where everyone but the corrupt government officials is screwed but here it is so out of place and not really getting any better. No wonder crime is so high. It’s also disgusting to me that these townships are considered a tourist attraction and I heard one of the biggest money making tours overall in this country so tourists can go gawk at these people and feel like they’ve been to poor Africa. I doubt if the township residents profit from it at all and we certainly have no desire to visit one.
Like I said before, apart from the guys working at the hostels, we really haven’t had much interaction with the blacks. It’s like they have a different world. In Windhoek I went into a dentist office to have something done and everyone looked at me like I was totally crazy or lost. Maybe the whites have their own dentists they go to. I swear some of the shops are like that too. Of course we aren’t following these unwritten social rules and although most of the time we don’t realize we’ve broken them, when we do, it’s awkward in that we don’t care because we are not as racist as the locals and that’s probably where the tourists run into the most trouble. We just don’t think about these things or take them as seriously as the local whites will tell us to. Even the whites are messed up, as the Afrikaans are quite different from those of British descent. Actually, I can’t tell one group from another, I’m just relaying what I’ve heard. There’s even the “coloured” group which are those people in the middle of mixed descent. Mo gets it the worst down here I think because he is “coloured” so the people initially treat him like one rather than as the British foreigner he is.
Kees is getting a little bit of a kick out of the language because the earliest settlers were Dutch so Afrikaans (the main language) is like Dutch from a couple centuries ago and Kees claims it sounds like baby Dutch. He claims to understand about 90% of what is written and 50% of what’s spoken in Afrikaans but I’m sure that it has changed meaning in many cases. We’ll be driving down the street and he’ll just start cracking up after passing a sign along the highway. He’ll then tell us that it just gave a direction for “unknown” or “far away” or something very, very rude that I can’t repeat here. Obviously we would never’ve known without him. Knowing the language definitely gives you a much better experience and perspective in an area.
After leaving Lesotho we continued south, driving beside empty land protected by fences until we got to a village named Hogsback.
Hogsback is now a very touristic mountain retreat not far from the coast and one of the few spots in the area that actually has a forest. The climate seems to be such that all the time as we are driving we keep hitting different vegetation and looks. The area is still semi-desert but the mountains along the coast create streams and microclimates that can support small forests and farms. Hogsback is one of them and it was quite busy with tourists that come up to hike in the woods and see a handful of small waterfalls. It was extremely windy (the tent next to ours was destroyed), but the hike through the woods reminded me of home more than anywhere else since arriving in Africa. After that we finally made it to the coast and met up with Ben and Alex at Jeffrey’s Bay. Bre was thrilled, and it was good to have another reunion. We were annoyed at being in one of the top surfing spots in the world on the day before a major competition started to find cold, wet weather and crowded hostels. Only Alex ventured out into the water for a surf lesson and we moved on the following day to hopefully quieter destinations.
Our schedule seems to be getting slower and lazier as we are no longer in a rush. Ben and Alex are also headed to Cape Town but since we have entered the Garden Route, the most touristy and popular in the country there is lots for us to see and do and since nobody has to be in Cape Town until the end of the month, we may just take our time getting there. We just hang out in the mornings and take our time getting up before finally moving on a short ways down the road to the next stop, arriving just in time to set up camp in the dark yet again. Not the best system but the one we’ve gotten used to. We continue to camp despite the cold but I don’t think it matters much because the buildings here were not built with the cold in mind at all. The doors are always open to common areas, the windows are not double-paned and a lot of the heat from the wood fires just disappears. Rain has not been too big a problem but we have unanimously decided that we have come at the wrong time of year. It would be fantastic in the summer here. Lots more to come when we get better internet access but that’s enough for now I think.


From Pretoria our plan was to work our way directly down to the coast near Port Elizabeth and meet up with Ben. It was to be a journey of over 1200 km so would take us a couple of days but, surprising no one, we just couldn’t stick to the plan.
As we all know (and I am constantly ridiculed for it by the rest of this group) I am trying to visit as many countries as I can. We were driving past Lesotho on the way to the coast. Savannah is no longer in possession of a passport, as the Canadian embassy keeps it while you wait for a new one (this seems like a retarded system to me since the British, US and Dutch all allow their citizens to keep their passports as ID during the weeks of processing). Do you see where this is going? Clearly the only possible solution was to make a detour into Lesotho on our way down to the coast and we were going to have to smuggle Savannah in and out to do it.
Ok, I will admit that this doesn’t really sound like the smartest of ideas but it was sort of a last minute decision on the way down and only an hour or two before we’d had to change directions to get to the border. If you’d crossed as many borders as we have and seen how little effort is actually put into checking tourists and their vehicles (especially since Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and SA are part of a common customs zone and really don’t check much), and if you were travelling with a bunch of crazies that were game for just about anything, you might not think twice about it either. It was actually no problem at all crossing in, we were quickly stamped out and in and nobody looked at us twice.
We entered Lesotho from the north-west at Ficksburg and the difference was immediately obvious. I’ll comment more about South Africa in another blog but for now let’s just say that going from SA to Lesotho at the border was like crossing from the US to Mexico or Ceuta to Morocco with the impoverished people lining up and passing along fenced paths to cross. Lesotho is one of the poorest countries in the world (which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me since it is completely surrounded by SA which is one of the wealthiest in Africa and you’d think they’d profit by that somehow) and many of the Basotho (the people of Lesotho) work in SA as simple labourers. It didn’t even seem all that geared up for tourism though there are tons of tourists in SA that could come over. When we stopped in Maseru, the capital, the few people I talked to were a little surprised to see us and were quick to ask why we were there. The answer seemed obvious to me: Because of its mountainous beauty.
Lesotho is mostly mountains and the landscape before and just after crossing the northern border reminded us very much of a cross between Utah/New Mexico with its rock formations and semi-desert vegetation and Wyoming with its wide open spaces and ranching. The population is about the same as that of Namibia and Botswana so it is much denser but in a very rural kind of way. The towns and the capital city are quite small and most people live in villages which are surprisingly close together. One of the biggest changes for us was the sudden switch back to open spaces. Everywhere in SA so far has been fenced off for farms but there were no fences in Lesotho and for the first time since Angola it felt like we were back in “Africa”.
Historically Lesotho was lucky because its people had the right leader at just the right time in history who managed to prevent the Afrikaans and British from completely taking over, and Lesotho was not included in the union that led to the creation of South Africa. Lesotho did, however, lose most of its low ground and today is the country with the highest low point. Everywhere is over 1000m, not a good thing if you are visiting in the winter because it was the coldest place so far down here. We enjoyed just driving through at looking at the scenery and waving to the people we passed on the road. They are quite friendly, more so than the South Africans. We stopped in the capital for a quick look and to shop for food and then ended up camping in a village named Morija at a closed Christian youth camp. The people were very friendly in opening it up to us. We also had our first rains since Brazzaville in the Congo and I’m surprised it didn’t snow because it had been below freezing when we went to bed that night.
Because it is so mountainous and cold the people are always wrapped up in blankets and it seems like the most distinguishing characteristic of the people. I like the look. The road traffic was light and we never saw any trucks though we drove about 200km of the main highway in the more populated area of the country. We also never saw any Lesotho flags (not even at the border crossings). That’s a first for me and I wonder about their national pride…. The country exports labourers, water and electricity to SA and tourism is based around pony treks, hiking and dinosaur footprints so there was actually nothing really for us to do at this time of year and we crossed back out to SA via a remote border crossing in the southwest that second day. Bre was yelling at us to get to Ben the whole time anyway.
Crossing out was a little scarier as we were very nearly busted by the SA border guards trying to get Savannah smuggled back in. It was obvious to us that the guy was beginning to guess that something was probably going on (his number counts were confused) but he couldn’t figure it out and in the end really couldn’t be too bothered, exactly what we’d been counting on. Having said that, we will not be trying such a thing again. I liked Lesotho and would like to see more of it, especially the more mountainous east if I ever end up in the area during the summer season.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


I thought that I would write a quick something so that my friends and family know that I am still on this trip. We are currently in a very lovely camping lodge about 20km outside the capital city of South Africa, Pretoria. We have to renew Savannah’s passport because hers is full again. Kees also has the same problem. We will carry on and hopefully pick the passports up in a different city when they are ready in three weeks.
Ammon mentioned that it is cold here. I have to say that it is freezing! During the day it is nice as long as the sun is on you but watch out when it goes down. We had to buy blankets to go along with our very light summer sleeping bags (which we hardly used in the past couple of years, due to extremely hot temperatures), and warm clothes. Even with the blankets we still have to curl up in small balls and bury our heads to keep warm. There is frost on the ground in the morning. We try to stay put until the sun comes up and we can venture out of our tents. The best way to do this is NOT to drink anything way before bedtime because the nights are so long.
The super markets are great so we have been eating well with familiar foods. The meat is incredibly great with amazing flavour and very inexpensive so we have been having barbeques most nights over the open fire. Now I know why South Africa is famous for braais aka BBQs. We have now been in our cosy tents for 3 months. It’s hard to believe how fast time flies.
Seeing the wildlife has been great and it amazes us how easily an elephant can be hidden in the bush just meters from our eyes. We watch a parade of elephants cross the street in front of us and simply disappear. It’s quite unreal. Nature is very clever indeed.
Every one is still in good health and happy. We all look forward to hitting the southern most point of this continent and starting on our way back up the east side and out of the winter. It feels too much like home here in South Africa and we need to get back to the unusual.
Miss you all.
PS. Ammon has just put up new photos for Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Having finished with our quick look in Zimbabwe, we returned to Botswana for a proper visit. Botswana is known as a very expensive destination for tourists in southern Africa and has some of the best wildlife viewing as well if you can afford it. Botswana actually has an elephant over-population problem with tens of thousands now in and around Chobe National Park. The Okavango delta is also world famous for its profuse wildlife and many amazing documentaries about wildlife and nature highlight the area. Unfortunately for most of us, getting into the heart of these parks involves chartered flights and staying at very expensive lodges (hundreds of dollars/night). Fortunately, and unlike many national parks in other countries, including Etosha, the parks are not fenced off and the surrounding human population density is very low so that it is still quite easy to see wildlife in the surrounding area outside the parks.
After a night in Kasane we opted to pay up and drive through Chobe on route to Maun, rather than drive all the way around. It’s a shorter route but on sandy roads so actually takes much longer. Fees are per day so we decided we’d just transit the park in a single day. It was a long day and we ended up seeing quite a bit of wildlife (elephants, giraffes, buffalo, zebra, lots of birds and plenty of various antelope) but, ironically, most of it was actually spotted outside the park itself.
It was fun to challenge the truck again on something other than tarmac but it was still a very slow going day with many stops in our attempt to identify various birds. Mom has become especially obsessed with this since Etosha where we picked up a little booklet identifying various animals in the region, especially birds. Although we made it out of the park by sunset (barely) we still had over 100km of unpaved road to Maun so we decided to just bush camp a couple of km from the southern gate. Just before we stopped however we could saw a hyena and could hear many more nearby and out of a healthy respect for their ability to eat us (not to mention the lions as well!) we ended up sleeping with 4 people in the truck and the other 5 stretched out on the top. The stars are amazing throughout Botswana and I’d be hard pressed to think of a country where I’ve seen more. We stuck some of the leftover bones in a nearby tree and then used a high-powered flashlight to watch a couple hyenas come over to inspect. They are huge and we were all thankful that we were up so high where they couldn’t reach us. Good fun.
We finally reached Maun the next day and had a couple days of relaxation. It was too expensive for any of us to venture into the park so we just relaxed at our camp beside the little river that passes through town. It was a sad time for us though as Wessel had run out of time and flew back home from Maun. We hope to see him again someday, somewhere, preferably soon. From Maun we just drove quickly through and out of Botswana via the Trans-Kalahari highway and on to Pretoria, the capital of S. Africa, where we are now. I was surprised that there was so much vegetation going through the Kalahari and it actually looked more like the same semi-desert we’ve been in for weeks now. We were able to bush camp once again but most of the time this would be very difficult because of all the fences. Like Namibia, Botswana has a very small population and very low density, but it is mostly cattle ranch country so the land is still in use. We’ve seen numerous cowboys and the beef really is cheap and excellent so far in southern Africa. We have BBQ’s (they call it braai in Afrikaans) every other night it seems.
I know it isn’t funny but to me it seems ironic that there always has to be some tragedy in an African country, no matter how successful it is. Botswana is one of the most stable countries in Africa, has a strong tourism industry geared toward the high-end market, has huge diamond deposits, including the largest producing field presently and generally seems well off. Of course fate has to curse it somehow so Botswana can also lay claim to be the country with the highest HIV rates in the world. It has been estimated that 40% of the adult population is HIV positive. I personally have serious doubts about these numbers (largely stemming from my mistrust of aid organizations and NGOs) but there can still be no doubt it is a problem. There was an article in the paper the other day about a 14 year old girl who died of AIDS after being raped at school 2 years earlier.
As I said before, we are now in Pretoria. It’s a big detour from our goal of Cape Town but we need to get new passports for Kees and Savannah before moving on. It is full blown winter now and we are freezing on a regular basis. Desert weather is strange, we get nothing but blue skies and hot sun but even in the shade in the middle of the day it is cold. We constantly have to switch from hot to cold, sun to shade and from one layer to two throughout the day. Nights go down to just above 0C and even with 4 layers, a light sleeping bag and a big blanket, I’m still cold. The worst part of winter is definitely the shorter daylight hours and having to quit driving early and still ending up setting up camp in the dark. I hope you guys are enjoying summer for me.