Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Traveling South Africa -- Cape Town

          After our return from Durban, our remaining time in Botswana began to draw to its close. The end came in sight, and the reminiscing and goodbyes were anticipated. In the midst of all this, we still found time for travel. The testing period at UB lasts nearly 3 weeks, and several of us were done within the first couple of days. Because of this, we took advantage of our time, and arranged a final trip to Cape Town, South Africa. This time, our mode of transit would be Combi bus to Johannesburg and then we would fly to the southern most part of Africa and arrive in Cape Town. As is our custom, we would not make the trip easy. Since we have been living in Botswana for over 90 days now, it is has become necessary for us to carry travel waivers when we cross borders. However, since this hasn’t been necessary for most of the semester, we did not really think about it on this trip. Unfortunately, one of the students traveling with us lost hers, and was held up at the border. They told her that she would have to return to Botswana, and pay a P100 fine for each day since her study visa expired (around P1000). The rest of us had to continue on with the bus, as our tickets were non-refundable and we had a flight to catch that afternoon. The story of how this worked out is not quite mine to tell, and I cannot quite capture how miraculous it was. The girl returned to Botswana, convinced the officer to reduce her fee in half, hitchhiked from the border to the airport in Johannesburg and arrived at the airport even before our own bus. My apologies for the terrible summary of an amazing story. Anyway, our first hurdle of the trip was under our belts and we boarded our plane for the beautiful city of Cape Town. We took an overpriced cab from the airport to Long street, which is the central downtown street of Cape Town and also the home for a large number of hostels. After spending over 30 minutes driving up and down the street looking for the hostel, we finally arrived at our destination. We spent the next few hours catching up on sleep, and then set out to explore Cape Town.
            Our first adventure in Cape Town, was advised to us by some friends of ours that had visited Cape Town earlier in the semester. This was a ‘restauraunt’ although that may not be the correct word. It was in a rather run down neighborhood on the outskirts of Cape Town. The place is called Mzoli’s. The way it works is as follows: you wait in line until you arrive at a counter filled with raw meat of all different kinds, you then tell the people what kinds of meat you want, then they season it and give you a large plate of raw meat, finally you take the meat to the smoky oven room in the back where at this point there were already nearly 200 plates in line to be cooked. Because of this, the wait for the food  to be ready is around 2 hours. In the meantime, there is a tent set up around the corner with music and a dance scene. After the long wait, we enjoyed some of the best braii’d meat I have had in Africa (and Africa knows how to braii). The club began to close down at 8pm, and we finally journeyed back into town.
View from Table Mountain
            The next day we hiked Table Mountain. Although the weather did not cooperate, the views of the city and the surrounding mountains were spectacular. About half way up our hike, we began to enter into a low-lying cloud. Before long, the wind began to pick up speed, and we became encompassed by the cloud. Unfortunately, we had to turn back before reaching the top of the mountain, due to the severe conditions. As we reached the bottom of the hiking trail, the rain began to pour down. Our already moist clothes were soon drenched from the downpour. We walked for about a half an hour through the rain before reaching the welcome center, and catching a cab back into town.
            Later that day, we booked a wine tour for the next day. This would run from around 8 in the morning until 8 in the night. We were picked up in the van that would take us around the greater area of Cape Town throughout the day, and continued on to pick up the other groups that would be touring with us. The first place we visited was a family owned vineyard called ‘Villiera.’ At this vineyard, our tour guide walked us through a field of grape vines, and explained to us the process of making wine. Between our lessons, we enjoyed some of the wine and champagne made by this small family business. Throughout the day we would taste wine at 5 different vineyards. In the process we were able to explore the area around Cape Town, which consisted of some of the most beautiful landscapes I have seen in my life. I will leave my unsatisfactory pictures to explain the beauty. By the end of the day, we were all feeling the effects of the wine, and had one of the most exciting days of our trip under our belt.

            Our next adventure would be a trip to Robben Island, which houses the prison where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for his involvement in the anti-Apartheid movement. The prison has now been turned into a memorial to the prisoners who were held here and stood up for their freedoms. The tours are guided by ex-prisoners, which give them a uniquely personal aspect. Our tour guide had spent 5 years in prison, and told us that of the 5 others that entered with him, only 3 survived their imprisonment. During the tour we were shown the cell that housed Nelson Mandela, as well as the courtyard where Mandela had kept a garden. The tour guide told us about the brutal conditions under which the prisoners were forced to live. The experience was one that I will not soon forget, and provided a rare glimpse into the infamous racial issues that still exist in South Africa today.
Camps Bay Beach
            After we returned from Robben Island, we took a cab to one of the popular beaches of Cape Town. Unfortunately the weather did not provide us with a good day on the beach. Still, we braved the cold and explored the rocky beach, which had a special view of ‘the 12 apostles’ which is a nickname given to the 12 cliffs that provide the backdrop to this beach. After what seemed like hours of hopping through the various rocks that protrude into the ocean and collecting rocks and shells, we finally headed back to the hostel after a long day.
            Before long, our time in Cape Town had come to a close and it was time to head back to Botswana, where we would have 1 day to prepare for our final program trip to the Okavango Delta. The next morning we planned for a cab to take us to the airport, where we again flew to Johannesburg. In Johannesburg we caught a Combi back to Gaborone, and returned to school. 

Nelson Mandela's cell

A view of Cape Town from Robben Island

The 12 Apostles
Mountains in the Cape Town area, seen on wine tour
Our final vinyard

The group

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Traveling South Africa -- Durban

In the month of April, I took two trips to South Africa. The first was to the city of Durban over our Easter break. This city is on the southeastern border of the country on the Indian Ocean. The second was to Cape Town, which is on the southwestern border on the Table Bay, a natural bay of the Atlantic Ocean. As is always the case with my travel crew and I, we had some rough beginnings, lack of planning and amazing experiences together.
            Our trip to Durban began on the Wednesday during Holy Week. Since we were technically still in school, some of us still had things to take care of before we could leave Gaborone. We scheduled a bus out of Johannesburg, SA that would leave at 10pm for Durban. We caught the last Combi out of Gaborone that left around 4pm. The problem with these Combis is that they do not run on a set schedule, rather they simply wait until they are filled and then set off for their destination. Because of this, we were cutting our   time to make the bus very short, since it takes about 6 hours to get to Johannesburg. Around 8pm, we were stopped at a filling station, and we told the driver that we were trying to make a 10pm bus out of Johannesburg. He anxiously looked at his watch, then told us that we would make it, and proceeded to rush everyone into the Combi. We entered the city around 9:15pm and thought that we would make it in plenty of time. Unfortunately, Johannesburg is a tremendously spread out city and we were still no where near the bus station when we entered the city. Soon we realized that the driver was driving excessively fast, and practically ignoring stoplights. It didn’t take us long to realize that he was doing all this in order to try to get us to our bus on time. After turning the bright lights of Johannesburg into a blur, and yelling at several passengers to hurry out of the Combi at their respective stops, we ended up at our bus at exactly 10pm. We thanked the driver for his efforts, tipped him and hurried off to our bus. After arguing with the new driver about our tardiness, we were finally let on the bus, and on our way to Durban.
Looking down on our hostel

            We arrived at our hostel at 6am the next day. Our hostel was about a 10 minute walk from the beachfront and located on the second floor of a multiple purpose building. The lobby of the hostel has no roof and is surrounded by walls that stretch about 4 stories high. Having had very minimal sleep on the bus, we decided to take a nap before beginning our day. After several hours we woke up and walked down to the beach front to see what we were in for. The first thing we noticed about Durban is that the area of the city on the beach is a rather run down section of the city. Trash is littered on the streets and sidewalks and the buildings are all very unkempt. The beachfront, however, is beautiful. The boardwalk was packed with people and tourists enjoying the warm sun and surfers and swimmers were scattered throughout the water. After eating breakfast at a restaurant on the beach, we walked along it for a while and sat down on one of the cement slabs that line the city-side of the beach. After taking in the view, we were ready to leave, when my friend realized that her wallet was missing. We searched high and low for the wallet, but finally had to accept that it had been stolen right from under our nose. Again, it wouldn’t be our vacation without beginning with some hurdles.
            Our experience in Durban was one of enjoying the company of our friends in a beach town that seemed to have seen its better days. Since most of us at this point were conserving cash, we opted away from some of the more touristy options such as shark cage diving or snorkeling. Instead we spent most of our time on the beach, and exploring the various shops and vendors along the area. We also visited the aquarium, which is apparently the largest aquarium in the Southern Hemisphere.
 After several days on the beach and exploring the nightlife of Durban, it was time to return home again. Our bus out of Durban was leaving at 10pm and was supposed to arrive in Johannesburg. Soon after our departure, however, the bus began having mechanical problems and we found ourselves broken down on the side of the road, only about an hour outside of Durban. After several attempts to fix the bus moved us maybe 30km farther in our journey, they decided to send another bus (from Johannesburg) to pick us up. We waited for hours longer in the parking lot of a gas station. The timing of everything has become rather blurry, but after we finally arrived in Johannesburg, it was about 3 in the afternoon. After that we had to catch a combie back to Gabs, which is another 6 hour drive. All in all, our journey turned into an unnecessary 24-hour endeavor. But, alas, we had arrived back at school and returned to life in Botswana.