Saturday, January 21, 2012

This Is Gonna Take A While...

I’m back!

Sorry for the lack of updates. It’s been a busy holiday season and I’m just starting to get back in the goove. Turns out this is a long update, so grab a cup of coffee…

First of all, THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone who contributed to our library project!! We are fully funded and will be getting books to schools in a few months! THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

Christmas was good. We started it off with a great trip to Mozambique. It was a short trip, just a day in Maputo, half a day up to Tofo, two full days on the beach, and then a LONG day back down to Swaziland. We left Tofo at 4am after going to bed at 2am (what can I say?) and were on transport from then until we got out of the taxi in Mbabane at 8pm. My feet were so swollen, we smelled like sweat and fish, and we were tired. So we were all obviously a treat to be around, but after a shower and an actual meal, we were happy to be back.

A few days, literally just a few days, we were back living out of our backpacks for another week. We went camping at our favorite little tree house in the bush for the few days before Christmas. We found an awesome spot to swim with a small waterfall, small rapids to float down, and warm water. We spent most of the day there, which was fortunate as the next day it rained off an on. But we were all content to just hang out under the trees. We spent Christmas at the local backpackers, cooking a delicious Christmas dinner of turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and stuffing. All enjoyed pool side with the gorgeous African sunset in the mountains. It was a great Christmas.

I then rushed home to do some laundry before Sue and John came a few days later! It wasn’t quite successful because the one full day I had back at my site, it rained just as I got my clothes up on the line. Of course. But nothing could dampen my spirits on my way to go see Sue and John! Not even the honest to God, most crammed bus on the face of the Earth. We were stuffed three across… in the aisles of this bus. I had a baby in my face and someone’s boobs in my back. It was madness. But I finally got to Nhlangano and met Sue and John at the hotel. It was so exciting to see them!

We spent the next day at my site, walking around, seeing what there was to see. We even toured the local clinic for Nurse Susan and then trekked across the maize fields to see my host mother who was so busy weeding in the fields, she couldn’t come in for lunch.

The next day was New Year’s Eve and we spent it around Malkerns and the Ezulwini Valley, looking at the local craft shops and having beers, waiting for the party to start at House on Fire. We had a great New Year’s there, even if the party kept thumping in our ears long after we had gone to bed. We spent New Year’s Day at a braai at my friend Kerry’s house in Mankayane. Lots of volunteers and a few families came so it was a great group of people, meeting people’s families and having them meet mine!

Then it was time to head up to Kruger National Park in South Africa. We dropped off the rental car at the Nelspruit Airport and were picked up and driven to our hotel in the Krugz. But of course this is Africa and it couldn’t just be that simple. So driving down a mountain into down, we got a flat, and I mean flat, tire. Right on a bend in the road down the hill. It took a while to get fixed as we had to call in back up from town, but eventually we were up and moving again and on our way to Kruger. We pulled into this BEAUTIFUL resort in the middle of the game park and were welcomed royally… I mean, they called us by name! The whole time we were there! We freshened up a bit and had some lunch and before we knew it, it was time for our evening game drive. We had a morning drive and an evening drive each day, and on each one was saw something awesome. That first night, we saw a pride of lions that had been in a fight the night before. They had won and wanted us and everyone else to know that they had, so one would start roaring, then a few more joined in, then soon all 8 – 10 lions were roaring 5 feet from us! Then they’d fade out and roll over and go back to sleep, until someone decided it was time to start roaring again. Then they’d all start up again for a while… then flop back down and go to sleep. It was hilarious. The next morning we were out, driving along, and Susan spotted a leopard! So we went off-roading to find it. We were coming up on the leopard when all of a sudden she lunged at our tracker who was sitting on the hood of the car. He quickly scrambled up the hood and, for some reason, politely asked our ranger “Can I come in the car?” Um YES! Apparently the leopard had cubs we hadn’t seen and was obviously very upset as we came closer. So she sulked off into the bushes around us and we decided to get out of there. So we try to make a path through this high grass, not noticing that there are lots of ravines in this area, so we promptly roll over one, and who knows what we hit, but all of a sudden we hear a pop and rushing air. Our second flat tire in two days, and this one in an even more dangerous spot than our last… with an angry mama leopard stalking us in the bushes. So somehow we manage to get back onto the road and up a little bit (but not very far) before we stop to change the tire. So our tracker changes the tire, while our ranger stands guard with the rifle and Sue, John and I keep an eye on the bushes. It was intense! That afternoon we went on a walk down by the river to check out the hippos. Susan was talking about our long pole, but I knew even that wouldn’t make Mom go on that walk. That night, we happened upon a whole herd of elephants. We sat watching them come up to a water hole and mosey on. Before we knew it, the elephants were trouncing down the road towards us, so we started to back up and get out of their way, when we realized there were elephants behind us. Um, we were surrounded by elephants. So we kind of pulled of to the side a bit and let the elephants go around us. The adults just sauntered by, literally 5 feet from us, and the baby elephants kind of scurried by, it was so cute. The next morning we saw a leopard that had just killed an impala. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the kill actually happen, but I can only imagine how rare of a sight that actually is. The leopard (Scotia was her name, like Nova Scotia) had killed an impala and dragged it to a bush to hide it, while she rested. That night we went to check out if she had pulled it up a tree. We found her again, with a large belly, panting heavily in a tree, very clearly full and content, but no impala. Either she hid it really well, or more likely, it was stolen by hyenas. That evening we also followed a giraffe on foot and found out she had a baby. It was awesome. The next morning we found a pride of lions stalking some buffalo, and waited a while with them to see if they would do anything, but it was getting hot so the lions settled down for the day and we decided to move on. And we topped it all off that night with lions mating. Did you know lions mate 50 times a day for like 5 days straight?? Yeah. That was the talk of the camp that night. We saw all kinds of cool random things too, like a fluorescent scorpion, and all kinds of sweet birds making random noises. We had awesome dinners of Nyala (delicious!), springbok, crocodile, and impala, as well as other, more normal things too. We ate in a Boma setting one night, a kraal for those of us in the Swaz, and outside bbq is the best way to describe it for the rest of you. And one day was out in the bush, which was awesome. They had brought out a full bar and the full buffet meal out to the middle of the park. We asked what made us safe there and our ranger, Brandon, said “we’re not.” Um, okay… It was a wonderful time at Lion Sands and we were sad to leave, but it was time to move on… to Cape Town!!

We flew from Nelspruit to Cape Town, my first plane ride since I landed in the Swaz a year and a half ago. I was excited, that only being one of the reasons. We stayed at this funky place in the city with odd gothic slash chic, modern glamour d├ęcor. It was cool and weird at the same time. UJ loved the music. ; ) We spent the first night out at the Waterfront having some good ole Cape Town wine and delicious food. It was lovely.

The next day we rented a car and drove down the peninsula. All the way down to the point are cute little towns like Kalk Bay and Simonstown, right on the water, up against the mountains. We stopped in Simonstown and said hello to the penguins, then went down to the point and walked around down there. We went to the old lighthouse that used to be lit by like a bajillion candles until they realized it was too high up to do any good. We walked down to the point, or as close as we could get, and were officially at the most southwesterly point in Africa. The most South I think any of us had ever been. We then drove over to the Cape of Good Hope where UJ almost hit an ostrich and Susan died in the backseat. I obviously was the only one who held my cool, except for a few swear words I won’t ever repeat again, I promise.

After a day of walking around, I promptly grabbed the Nuvi on our way out of the park and plugged in the nearest McDonald’s. I told Sue and John when they first got here that there were no ifs ands or buts about it, we were going at least once. And we were all happy for a little Mickey D’s for our drive home.

The next day we cable car’d it up to the top of Table Mountain. Just in time too, because we saw the clouds starting to form when we were up there and when we got down and back to the Waterfront, the clouds were rolling over and down the mountain. They call it “the table cloth.” It was amazing. We spent our last evening on Long Street, my old stomping grounds. We left the next morning and flew back to Joburg where we parted ways and I went to the hotel and Sue and John began their journey back to the US.

I spent the night in the hotel, but not before exploring the Emperor’s Palace grounds and getting some Nando’s to ease my way back into my more normal eating routine, starting with a nicer fast food restaurant. I got KFC the next day in the Swaz, and then a take away dinner the next, before it was back to rice and beans at site. But that wasn’t before the adventure back to the Swaz.

I stayed at a pretty nice hotel by the airport that night and was on my own to get back, not a problem, just had to ask directions. So I go to the front desk the next morning and ask them how to get to Park Station in downtown Joburg, where I get my khumbi to Swaziland. The guy told me to take a taxi down there and it’ll wait for me and bring me back. I was like… um let’s try this again, I’m not coming back first of all, and second of all, I know we’re a good ways outside of the city, I’m sure as heck not taking a metered taxi into town. I knew there was a train at the airport and a free shuttle there, so if worse came to worse I could do that. So I asked the nice man where I could catch the public transport into Joburg and he gave me this look like I was nuts. “Um, I wouldn’t recommend that for you,” he said. “Why?” I asked. “Because you don’t know where you’re going.” Please dude, I don’t know where I’m going half the time I’m in Swaziland, and its called survival there. So I assured him I’d be fine and he told me where to catch the taxis, confusing yes, but this time I knew he was talking about my kind of taxis, not the actual taxis. I came back to check out and he said “so you’re really going?” I was like uh yeah, he said “I can see your confidence so I know you’ll get there.” So did I. I’m fairly confident I’m the only guest (definitely white guest) to leave that place on public transport. I felt proud. So I walked out of the parking lot, walked through the car exit and out to the road where I walked right up to a khumbi. Turns out I had to go to Kempton Park to catch another one, not a problem, the driver was very nice, but it would have been nice to know from the other guy, cuz the driver asked “Kempton park?” and I said “No, Joburg!” and he looked at me like you’re an idiot. But I get that look a lot so I don’t mind anymore. So I hopped off one khumbi and onto the next to Joburg, where they do things a little differently than in Swaziland so it was a lot of just going with it. First of all, in Swaziland, each khumbi has a conductor who collects money and if you don’t know where you’re going, he’s the guy to ask. In South Africa, they don’t have conductors, someone in your row collects the money and passes it up to the passenger in the front seat who collects it. Also, no one to ask how to get to Park Station. No problem, I’ve been there before. So I’m passing familiar things in Joburg, happy I’m at least on the right khumbi, and people are jumping out right and left and we stop and I see a bright yellow, brand new sign around a parking structure like the one I need to be on that says “Park Central.” Lots of people get off, so I’m like “Yeah! This is it!” I walk up to it and quickly realize I was wrong, but Joburg is not the place you want people to realize you don’t know where you’re going. So I strut up to the nearest police officer (always a 50/50 on if they’re the safest person to ask when you’re in Africa) and ask where I can catch the khumbi to Swaziland, incase this was actually the place. He says, Park Station, a 10 to 30 minute walk from here. Crap. But I got directions and strutted my way down the streets of Joburg and, well 3 blocks, literally 2 minutes later I got to a place I ACTUALLY recognized as Park Station walked right up to my khumbi, sat down and felt immediately relieved and proud. I got from some random hotel outside Johannesburg to a whole other country, all by myself! I knew I could, but its definitely a relief to have behind you.

I spent the next few days in town saying goodbye to my dear friend Jess who was heading back to America in a few days. Jess, if you happen to read this, we miss you like crazy and hope you’re enjoying the land of the plenty!

But I’m back hut-side now, back to the frustrations I was so happy to get away from on vacation, but all in all, happy to be back in my normal routine. I’ve spent the past week trying to see head teachers at the schools, getting library stuff and teaching stuff figured out. Well for some reason, they haven’t been there, just a few days before schools open. Why weren’t they there? Who knows. But at least its good exercise, walking there and back.

We weathered quite the storm the other day. Tropical Cyclone Dando absolutely wrecked our neighbors to the northeast and since Mozambique, specifically Maputo and south of that (literally miles from our own borders). So obviously we got quite a bit of flooding and hurricane-like weather at the beginning of the week. I’m in the exact opposite side of the country, so while we had crazy weather, it wasn’t much different. But those that are closer to the coast got some bad flooding. All I can say is I’m glad I picked this week to stay put. Transport must be awful.

But the sun is shining again and things are rolling again. That’s all I’ve got I think… finally! Thanks for stickin with this update! I promise I will try to be better with the updates. Hopefully.

But for now, I hope everyone is staying warm, as I understand winter has finally come to the US. I hope the next winter is as mild as the one apparently has been, I’ll need an adjustment period. ; )

Love you all, miss you lots!!