South Africa: Study Abroad and Travel

Submitted by ReidMR on Sun, 01/13/2008 - 23:15

Personal Experience in South Africa

Poverty. Wealth. Bungee. Performing. Braai's. Volunteering. I felt enlightened as I crawled out of my shell and grew tremendously.

I studied in Port Elizabeth for the second half of 2007. Included here is information and pictures from Port Elizabeth, Cape Town, Durban, and other places around the country. It is an amazing country I could see myself living in. Try to make it there and have a great time.

Some photos are extremely low quality because of a mistake of mine. I lost my pictures. These are all I could recover.

If you want the abridged version, here are some highlights from this trip. Riding with a drunk driver and running out of gas. Performing with professionals on stage. Bungee jumping. Volunteering with the local children.

Late 2006 - Early 2007

Everything was planned and preparations began. Mom found out when I asked for my birth certificate for a passport. If it went my way she would have found out only shortly before leaving. Being from a conservative town and family they were shocked and concerned about my safety and mental health. One relative advised me for good reason to keep my zipper up. The HIV/AIDS rate is one of the highest in the world. Another relative told me not to bring back any black women. It reflected the attitudes in the area and is what I was starting with. There was and still is a perception by people I know that because I am open and enjoy traveling the world, it makes me completely insane. While I may be untraditional and a few items short of a full suitcase, I am not insane.

People are not used to others going against the norm, and as such, think there is something wrong with them. They have a hard time accepting and become stressed that we are living a life we want to. Society finds it hard to accept that what they value may be different from what others value. They seem afraid of things they have not experienced before.

I started saving money and preparing for the trip. The university had an information session and answered questions for parents and students. They also gave us students information about travel, notably the cultural assimilation roller coaster curve. At the start of a trip it would be like a honeymoon where everything is great. Then we would crash down and have a hard time as we notice differences. Later we adapt to the differences, appreciate them, and may even dislike things at home. Each oscillation reduces until we assimilate into the country. This affects people in different manners, intensities, and time spans.

Around the end of April or beginning of May I had an allergic reaction to something, went into anaphylactic shock, and was hospitalized for a few hours. I never knew about this and that people die from it. A doctor prescribed an EpiPen to carry around at all times. They could not test thoroughly enough to determine what I reacted to. Because of the insurance and healthcare problems in the States I was left with a 1500 USD bill. Insurance covered a further 1500 USD. The ambulance company offered a payment plan for the ambulance ride which deferred 1000 USD and took a year to repay. The rest came from my travel savings. The trip was in limbo because of this, but I decided to go anyway. A student loan would cover the budget shortfall if it came to that. It was needed eventually.

Friday 7 July 2007

With three friends at a restaurant, sitting on a booth made for two, but all four of us together.
Shortly before leaving, my friends Yeshi, Lucky, and Sweety treated my brother and I to dinner. It was enjoyable. We persuaded Troy to come since he was in St. Cloud. They are remarkably generous and inspire me.

Happily, more friends surprised me by coming over Sunday evening for a while. I was nervous wondering if my family would behave themselves. They were all well behaved so I relaxed. My sunglasses were lost in a lake when we were camping so they, Sumedh, Yeshi, Nevil, Lexa, Sweety, and Lucky, bought me a new pair of Oakley sunglasses. Their generosity amazes me. It was fun having them over.
WIth my friends and part of my family at my parents home, group photo.
Back row: Troy, Sumedh, Me, Nevil, Ma, Pa.
Front row: Jack, Yeshi, Lexa, Lacey.

Sunday 8 July 2007

Mom invited family, friends, and relatives to visit before leaving. We ate dinner and enjoyed each others company. It is uncommon for someone to go to Africa from this town.

Monday 9 July 2007

We were at the airport in Minneapolis preparing to go through the security queue. Lacey, Kate, Pa, and Ma came to the airport to see me off. I don't know if Mom cried because I didn't look back. We left at 7 am on Monday and arrived in Port Elizabeth at 9 pm on Tuesday. It was a long flight with over a day of travel time. We reached our place and went straight to sleep.
At the airport with the fellow study abroad students, group photo.
Me, Eric, Robyn, Jaclyn, Tyler, Keilani, Jessica, Laura, Hiromi.

Wednesday 11 July 2007

With Marius, the complex caretaker. Photo with car and some of the student village homes in the background.
This is a building at the Annie's Cove student village with the caretaker Marius. It is welcoming and surrounded by the wall you see in the background. The wall has a four strand electric fence on top and a security system. We use a keychain fob to enter the grounds through a two stage gate system. One gate had to close before the other opened.

Me posing with the money I just exchanged, feeling rich with the South African rand!
After exchanging money at the boardwalk, I felt rich. It was spent quickly though. Ensure you have a debit card with a four digit pin so you can use it at any global ATM. Everything was not sorted before leaving so there was stress waiting for the card to arrive in the mail. While waiting I missed out on travel opportunities.

At the beach with the water in the background in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
Some of us walked the 15 minutes to the beautiful beach by our place.

Friday 13 July 2007

Snail crawling along the beach with its trail behind it.
Some days I walk along the beach to absorb everything. I am engrossed by: creatures and life teeming everywhere, the waves, salty ocean smells, sand kissing my feet, the sun beaming on the horizon, snails crawling, and other people.

Sunday 15 July 2007

Posing with the great huge painting I just got. A scene with villages on water. Great colors with blue as a dominant hue.
This is my new painting from the nearby market. The market is a 1.5 hour walk away. Many of us bought paintings to decorate our walls. These were the first paintings I have ever bought. It gave a rush of excitement, endorphins, and adrenalin haggling over the price. Haggling can bring the price down tremendously. Done in good spirits and without worries it can be exhilarating and fun. I bought two paintings for 267 rand (~40 USD). They asked R350 - 400. This one is absolutely enormous.

Matsu posing with my other painting, a map of Africa.
This is my other painting and Japanese flatmate Matsu. We share a bathroom and kitchen. Matsu is studying English here, is nice, and is easy to get along with.

Monday 16 July 2007

A bunch of shells packed on structures near the ocean
This was the first time seeing these creatures. The barnacles attached onto coastal structures. You could stand on them.

Tuesday 17 July 2007

Some wild monkeys at my campus, about to dig through the trash bins.
This was the second time in my life seeing wild monkeys. These were extremely daring. One came right up to us when we were eating. A friend became nervous, grabbed her food, and moved away. She forgot her apple and a monkey stole it. Some monkeys would come 5-10 feet (2-3 meters) from us.

A group of South Africans playing for the international students on campus.
Outside our international office they organized an energetic and fun 15 minute drumbeat show.

Young kids running through the township. Image of happiness in poverty.
This is called Red Location and is an impoverished area of Port Elizabeth. We came to a nice museum in the middle of it. A stark contrast to the surrounding area. A beautiful and expensive museum surrounded by poverty. It was a little sad and felt more like what I expected to see when imagining Africa. The playing kids reminded my of my little sister. If circumstances were different it would have been her running around. Kids have fun and make the most of what they do have.

Dolphins jumping over a pole at the aquarium.
Most international students went to Sea World where they put on a dolphin show.

Highlight: Riding with a drunk driver and running out of gas.

Saturday 21 July 2007

Group photo in the Taxi / Van on the way to Jeffery's Bay.
One day we went to Jeffery's Bay when they hosted a world class surfing competition starring Kelly Slater and other pros. We went with the driver of a taxi/van and 14 friends. It was a 1.5 hour trip one way and R800 (~120 USD) in total for all of us.

The driver stayed in Jeffery's Bay doing his own thing. He picked us up late after the competition finished. We began to drive back as it was becoming dark. He was drunk. We had been told numerous times not to drive at night because of a high risk of being mugged. I was wide awake and nervous since we were weaving all over the road. One time I had to take the wheel so he did not smash a traffic cone.

On the way back he took a lovely scenic detour. The only problem was that he didn't tell us where we were going. It was up a small mountain. The area was desolate and we were wondering if we would make it out alive. Eventually he turned around to go back. The speed limit was 80 or 100 KPH (~50 or 60 MPH). He was erratically driving from 50 - 120 KPH (~30 - 75 MPH) down this steep and narrow mountain road. I was sure we were going to fly over the edge never to be seen again.

We arrived back on the proper road and began to relax. Some of us even fell asleep. I was amazed they could sleep since we were still weaving across the road and I continued to grab the wheel. By this time it was completely dark. The warnings about nighttime crime were repeating in my head. Suddenly we started slowing down for no apparent reason. Maybe this was the time and place we were going to die. Finally we came to a stop on the side of the road. We asked the driver what was going on and he replied that we had run out of gas. We thought he must be joking or plotting something life threatening.

Pushing the van at night off the road.
It was not a joke. We had to jump out and push the van a quarter mile (half kilometer) off the interstate and wait in the dark for something to happen. While we waited he shared stories about how dangerous it is to be out there and his self defense training. He showed us moves with his keillie, a stick for beating people. He also told us of the times he has had to kill people in his van when they were trying to rob him. After waiting for an eternity (30-45 minutes) his friend or brother came with gas. We pushed the van so he could restart it. We wondered if he would abandon us and drive off. But he stopped and we hopped back in. He decided to stay off the main road and take a side road home. We did not know where we were and thought he was still plotting to kill or mug us. Finally we saw the light (Port Elizabeth) and reached home alive and with all of our money. He asked for a big tip. He did not get one.

Since we were safe it was a great day, good experience, and was fun.

If you are reading the abridged version, you may skip to the next highlight.

Tuesday 31 July 2007

Me surfing on the Ocean in Port Elizabeth!
Some of us went surfing. My longest surf was an exciting five seconds. Before the end of this trip I will try surf to the shore. Moments after this photo was taken I was eating sand off the ocean bottom.

Our internet is exceedingly spotty. It was down the first week here. It went down again so I can only access the internet at school or pay for it at an Internet Cafe. Internet at the cafe is relatively quick as compared to the slower than dial up connection at our place and campus.

On one of the early days I went to the mall and fancied a pair of shoes in an official shop. They were about 800 rand (~120 USD). Too much, so I started walking out. But then an employee caught me off guard by offering a lower price. I assumed prices were fixed and have never negotiated in an official shop with proper price tags. We haggled and settled on 400 rand. I was so caught up in the moment and excitement of haggling that I did not stop to think about how much they were in US dollars. It turns out they were 60 USD and was more than I had intended on an impulse purchase.

Sunday 5 August 2007

A group of surfers in Port Elizabeth on the beach.
The photo is of scuba divers at the beach. I drove Darren's car today. I reached for the shifter to the right of me, but it is on the left here. We went to Central on Thursday and I was a little nervous. There was ongoing construction to prepare for a world cup in 2010. It is nice to use our bikes to move around. Tyler has been having a problem with running over thorns, 'Devils Teeth' as some people call them. The thorns puncture and flatten our tires.

One day when Tyler ran over another thorn away from home, we decided he would ride on my handlebars. He would steer his bike alongside. When he became distracted he steered the bike into us taking us down in the middle of the street. He jumped off and caught his balance. My leg caught between the bikes and pulled me down with it. With only bumps, bruises, and scrapes we tried again. He steered it safely the rest of the way home with me ensuring he stayed focused.

Highlight: Performing with professionals on stage.

Thursday 6 August 2007

I heard that Go-Go Lounge was a strip club and decided to check it out. At the club were some marvelous dancers. A few were extraordinarily pretty with fabulous bodies. I talked about stripping and an employee was notified. Since it was Amateur Thursday they gave me the green light. After some time they called me up and led me to the long time employee who does this on stage. She sat me on a chair. The lead woman announced, “It is Reid from America's birthday today and he is going to strip for us!” Everyone gathered around. The woman danced around me, sat on my lap, pulled my hands to her nice firm breasts, and began to remove my shoes.

No one would believe what happened next. I would win 100 rand if I went all the way. She had me stand up and sensually removed all of my clothing. I removed my socks and stood up in my boxers. The woman started with simple moves on the pole followed by more difficult routines which I had to duplicate. A smiling, laughing, and amazed crowd of 50 men, women, and strippers watched the whole time. This was likely one of the few times they saw this.

She started to flip upside down on the pole so fast that I had to have her repeat the moves. I tried the routine, hanging on the pole, flipping upside down, and slowly sliding down. The fear of harming myself by falling on my head was prominent. But it was a success! The woman extracted a leather belt and whip with me thinking, “I hope they’re not serious about using this!” She slipped down my boxers to expose my rear and ordered me to bend over and hold on to the pole. I followed instructions and she proceeded to execute, for the first time in my life, five beltings and one whipping. My butt stung for a day. We danced for five minutes.

The woman announced, “Okay, you're done” and I countered, “No, I have to be naked”. So we started dancing again. She stripped off my boxers and I was completely naked. She continued to perform by inverting herself on the pole. I copied her with my junk flapping all over. When she lowered to the floor with splits I did my best to keep up! I cannot even touch my toes without bending my knees. My unkempt limp junk was flopping all over right in front of the onlookers. Everyone was shocked. We danced for another five minutes. After we finished I thanked the host and dancer, dressed, had a Sprite, collected my 100 rand, and strutted out.

Probably no one would believe it, but it is still something I am proud of. I never knew how tiring and difficult it is. My adrenaline was rushing the entire time and for the rest of the night. It was exhilarating. Some people said good job and one young server said it was quite entertaining. Other extremely attractive strippers wondered if I was a virgin and had ever had a private dance before. That was the first time I went to a strip club, saw everything on a nude woman, touched tits, and personally stripped.

When I see smooth poles anywhere, including in the streets, I still have urges to flip upside down and slide down. I learned that stripping is a difficult profession and gives a great workout. They receive a new level of respect from me. It is a challenging career that I give kudos for. I recommend that everyone try it at least once in their life. Go to an anonymous city if you are concerned about being found out. It is thrilling. After that a common question strangers would ask was, "Were you that guy who stripped?"

Later, I noticed there was a bump near the top of my right butt cheek. It feels like a jellybean underneath the skin layer. A doctor said it was likely a bust blood vessel, not a big deal, and would probably stay with me for the rest of my life. They could remove it surgically if it is bothersome. It is interesting watching the expressions of people who feel it. Some will not touch it while others act hesitant until I guide their hand to it. They give a shocked expression, usually start laughing, and freak out! Ask to touch my stripper bump sometime.

If you are reading the abridged version, you may skip to the next highlight.

Thursday 9 August 2007

Sardinia Bay, a great overview of the bay from a high vantage point near sunset, with the greenery and ocean in view.
We went to Sardinia Bay with Darren, Duncan, Caryn, Wade, Jason and Ronnie.

Braai (barbecue) at Sardinia Bay with friends
We had a tasty braai. It was fun to eat on the beach with breaking waves. We ate near the building in the photo. Braai's, basically a barbecue, are very popular in South Africa.

Me at Sardinia Bay, a great overview of the bay from a high vantage point near sunset, with the greenery and ocean in view.
This is me at Sardinia Bay.

Friday 10 August 2007

A photo of the Sugar Shack, the road in the foreground, and the shack with the hill and wilderness behind it.
This morning Laura, Keilani, Sam, and I left for East London. The bus was only 90 rand (~14 USD) and we stayed at this place for 65 rand (~10 USD) a night. Even eating out only cost 70 rand with the tip.

A group of us friends in front of the Sugar Shack sign.
This is the Sugar Shack from outside with Sam, Keilani and myself.

Saturday 11 August 2007

The natural archway over the ocean pool to jump into.
In East London we heard about Bats Cave and found this. We jumped off the lower arch into an ocean pool. It was 40 feet (~15 meters) high. There were hundreds of dolphins having fun jumping from the breaking waves. Sharp shell, rock, and barnacle were at the base of the pool. We scraped our feet climbing up. Later jumpers threw their shoes down. Waves crashed into and rushed over a shelf. I stood by the edge to feel the force of the water. It pushed me over a body length backwards skinning my hands, knees, and feet even more.

At the end of the dock in East London after a hike. Lots of railing, me, and the ocean.
This walkway followed the beach. A local said it is to increase foot traffic and reduce crime. Some places required a climb up the side of heart pounding steep terrain. This picture was at the end with a legitimate path. Most of the trail did not have a railing or pathway to walk on. On the way back the tide receded to expose a reef teeming with life and fishers. One man allowed us to touch an octopus he caught. It was awesome!

View from my pillow, the open door way, and the ocean further out.
This is the view from my pillow. I chose the bunk with the best view and fell asleep hearing and seeing the ocean break.

A three course seafood meal eaten right over the ocean at La Terrazzo.
La Terrazzo was the most expensive place I have ever eaten at. I had very good calamari, fish, vegetables, fries, cappuccino, and tiramisu for dessert. It is on stilts over the ocean with water underneath. I sat by myself to be outside. It was 160 rand (~25 USD) for everything. A full course meal and tip. They gave great service until paying. Because of differences in how the bill was presented I mistakingly left out a tip. The server was visibly upset even after receiving a good cash tip.

July or August 2007

Laura told me at some point that I was really coming out of my shell. Apparently I was really reserved after my upbringing in a reserved and secluded environment. It felt good to be able to act without someone judging me. I was able to be myself and nobody cared. Instead of wanting me to act in a certain way, they were able to appreciate me as the person I am and would become. I was able to be more free and enjoy a level of freedom unattainable in the small town I grew up in. I was not always having to censor, control, and restrict myself and everything I did. Personal growth takes a long time and this was one rewarding small step.

Saturday 1 September 2007

More ocean at Cape Recife.
Tyler, Eric and I went to Cape Recife. It is a half hour bike ride away. We saw a dying seal that Eric touched. It was hilarious to see him run when it snapped at him.

Wednesday 5 September 2007

With a group of students and fellow teachers as they are interacting with the students.
These are kids we volunteer with. I think they are in the fifth grade. It is a fun and rewarding experience. They are difficult to keep track of and engaged. They are probably like any fifth graders and full of energy. The age difference between students in one grade can be a few years due to the education system. Parents must pay directly for school. Children are withheld if their classes are not paid for.

Saturday 22 September 2007

In the car, four of us in the back seat made for two and a half people. All happy!
This is Kelvin, Ronnie, Duncan, and myself. We all went with Grant and Darren to East London. Darren's sister was gone so we stayed at her house. When we were here we watched rugby, everyone seems to be into it here, and braaied. He is my flatmate along with Matsu and another mate. We explored their town. It was windy so we were unable to visit the beach.

Nice town on the ocean, along the way to East London.
This was on the way to East London. It was a scenic ride. Many areas looked similar to the US. In three hours we passed places resembling Michigan, Colorado, Washington, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota.

Kelvin performing a puppet show.
We even make a little time for fun. This is Kelvin giving a quick puppet show.

Three happy guys on the way home in the back of the car.
The ride home with me, Grant and Ronnie.

A roadside farm on the way home, with a windmill in the foreground, a building and greenery behind.
A cool farmhouse on the return trip.

Food with pasta, meat, onions and parsley.
I try to eat enough here. This combined ideas from people who emailed and myself.

A photo of the entrance of one of the campus buildings, with the trees and flowers.
This is on campus. It has beautiful scenery.

Thursday 4 October 2007

Four of us posing for a photo, Darren, Ronny, me and Matsu Darren and I have ridiculous make-up on.
Darren, Ronnie, me, Matsu. Yeah, there is not too much to say. It is another example of us having a little fun. Some girls wanted to do this and surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly if you know me) we agreed. Jaclyn's mom was shocked. Her mom came for a few weeks. She celebrated her birthday anniversary here. Jaclyn bought a cake and we all surprised her mom. She was so touched she cried a little.

A bunch of guys ready to go outside, after finishing getting ready.
Matsu, Me, Darren, Ronnie, Tyler, Duncan. The guys were going out for the evening.

Sitting in Duncan's room, a typical scene with people sitting on his bed and floor.
Hanging out in Darren's room is a common sight. Eric, Isabel, Darren, Christo, and Jaclyn are in the photo.

Isabel pointed out language differences, especially regarding how we express ourselves. The meaning and way we express ourselves can change based upon the language used. Translating from German to English could be very difficult and even sometimes impossible. They used words to encompass different meanings and expressions. Language can change how people communicate with each other and how they peceive the world.

A photo of my room, rather clean and organized besides a few things out.
This is how my room usually looks. Maids clean here once a week. At first it was awkward to have them around and I would clean anyway. Eventually I started to appreciate their efforts and relaxed. Maids are really nice to have around.

At the volunteer place, interacting with the students.
This is volunteering again. The children remind me of my brothers and sisters, Kate, Jack and Lacey.

Posing for a photo with most of us looking silly with the students.
Volunteering again. It is fun and rewarding. I am glad to be part of it.

One day when volunteering the home across the path was preparing a feast. A goat was making distressed cries. Suddenly it was quiet. I went outside to look. It was already dead with its skin being peeled off. I am too much of a softie, so had to go back inside to pretend I saw nothing.

Saturday 20 October 2007

At Sardinia Bay with our students, sitting on the sand.
We brought the kids to Sardinia Bay for a lunch and swim. We also buried Mai and Janet. It was a fun day. When we buried Mai and Janet some kids made the sand bodies more accurate by adding in extra details.

The guys with painted green faces ready to watch the rugby game.
Watching the rugby game at Sean's house. Group photo of about 15 people sitting together.
In the evening a group of us watched the Rugby World Cup. South Africa won. I drove home with people cheering and hanging out of the windows. That was funny to watch.

Superspar, the grocery store we went to. It was just finished when we came.
This is where we buy groceries from. Summerstrand is where we live and it is probably the nicest area in Port Elizabeth. It feels safe, modern, and similar to the US. To get the "real feel" of South Africa a person has to venture out of the area we live.

A meal, taco like, with some filling and rice.
This was another tasty meal. It combined my ideas with what others sent. It is representative of what I usually eat.

Thursday 25 October 2007

Tyler with Eric's bike hanging from a sign.
Tyler is a good buddy of mine. We saw Eric's bike in the rack and Tyler thought I should try my key in Eric's lock. It worked so we quickly moved it. Eric was shocked to see it there. One lady was laughing as we moved it.

Friday 26 October 2007

A pannekoeken, breakfast. Something in the pancake, waffle, french toast category.
I made tasty pannekoekens for Tyler and I. Some mornings I make pancakes or simply have granola and yogurt.

A group of local kids squatting and posing for a photo when we were on the township tour.
We went on a township tour where we volunteer. The local tour guide told us that thieves from here went to wealthy neighborhoods to steal items and bring them back. They did not steal from the township because they would exact revenge on the thieves. The wealthy people have insurance so simply make a claim to buy replacement items. I remember thinking that the other reason they do not steal from the townships was that there was nothing of monetary value. The guide illustrated the dire poverty by explaining how significant it was to replace his mud floor and walls of his tiny home with brick and concrete. That was in progress after years of saving for it. When we walked around these kids in the photo gathered around. I felt awkward because it was like their poverty and struggles became our tourist attractions. They reminded me of the kids back home. Recently I started to miss friends and family in the States. I started to realize how wonderful my friends are.

Teenage dancers in the township at our volunteer place. People on the side.
The highlight during the tour was the kids dance. This was in the place we volunteer. They also made a meal.

Teenagers performing for a dance for us at the township school place. Drums on the side.
This dance was fun to watch. The kids put a lot of energy and effort in. They also played drums on the side. The whole event was great.

A group of us sitting in the back of the police pickup.
On the way home David asked these police if we could get a ride home. We already had a ride, but they said yes. It was a 20 minute drive. They SAID they would drive us home so ten of us jumped in the back.

Carly and I behind bars in jail!
They brought us to jail. This is Carly and I behind bars. The rest are to my side or in the other cell.

The police were happy to meet us and showed us around the local jail.

I was uncomfortable accepting this gift of a ride and gave poor directions. It would have been better and easier for everyone if I gave clear directions. It is something I am trying to improve, accepting gifts.

Saturday 27 October 2007

A group of musicians on stage at the Octoberfest festival.
There was a festival a bunch of us attended. It was fun to watch and listen to the folk musicians.

Saturday 3 November 2007

South African sunrise with the sun coming up through the trees.
This was the first sunrise I have seen in months to years. It was on the way to Cape Town. I bought the bus tickets only 1.5 hours before leaving. Katja and Michelle went on Thursday, I left Friday, and Isabel went on Saturday. We all arrived a day after leaving because we took overnight buses. My ride was exciting and forced me to stay up most of the way. In the morning the bus broke down. I am convinced it is because the driver was vastly under qualified. We arrived four hours behind schedule. I felt negative after arriving so had to watch and change that attitude. We arrived safe after all.

A winding road through the scenic landscape, with fields on the side and mountains in the distance.
On the way, closer to Cape Town.

A smoggy or cloudy picture overlooking Cape Town.
There was an open air bus tour of Cape Town. The top level had no roof. It was exciting to see most of Cape Town and become familiar with the city. This picture overlooks Cape Town.

Signal Hill in Cape Town South Africa, a small mountain with me in the foreground.
Katja and I hung out because Michelle was at a wedding and Isabel was en route. In the background is Signal Hill mountain.

The city had nice houses. It was comparable to something in the US. Cape town feels like a perfect city. The mountains are directly behind it and the ocean right in front. The water is a balmy 11 celsius (~50 F) and even warms to a summertime high of 12. We ate at a Mexican restaurant with delicious food. It had the first buffet I had seen. Buffets are not popular in South Africa. At the buffet we received service opposite of the food quality. The buffet was 75 rand (~12 USD).

A nice view of the Twelve Apostle Mountain range, with Camps Bay and the ocean.
In the background is the Twelve Apostles from Camps Bay. There are more peaks than that.

A wealthy area of Cape Town, with the city, mountain and water in the frame.
Nice overview of the wealthier side of the city.

That evening/night we went on a sunset ocean cruise. We were concerned because all of the other cruises were cancelled due to stormy weather. This company went anyway. It was awesome. The waves were gigantic. I am always up for an extra thrill. Most of the people on board were hard of hearing so it was very quiet as they signed to each other. Across from us sat five older people swaying side to side in unison with themselves and the waves. They were hilarious to watch sitting and trying to walk around. They quickly sat down. One sat on the floor and did not try to get back to the seat. I think I saw a shark in the water. Because of the weather we had to return early. This was a success and I did not get seasick in the least...

Okay, maybe just a little seasick.

Sea Princess, the yacht we had the tour on.
This is the yacht we were on.

Sunset over the ocean, at a steep angle because of the stormy ocean.
This is the angle the yacht would sway to. Probably further at times.

Sea Princess's South African flag with the ocean and sun in the background.
The South African flag with the sun in the background.

We enjoyed the flea market the next day. It took up most of the day, partly to find it, and the rest to browse around. I bought a couple things. It was sprinkling throughout the day. That evening we ate at a nice restaurant spending too much on the ostrich, kudu, and springbok. A live African band played soulful music.

A penguin conservatory on the way to Cape of Good Hope.
The next day we visited Cape of Good Hope, the most south-western point of South Africa. On the way we saw penguins at Boulders Penguin Colony.

Baboons on the side of the road near Cape Point, with wild yellow flowers.
Baboons near Cape Point.

Two ostriches at Cape Hope.
At Cape Point we explored, hiked, and saw Ostriches. The scenery was gorgeous. When we returned I ate at Subway. It was the first time seeing one since coming.

Four of us at Cape Point.
Katja, Me, Michelle, Isabel.

Cape of Good Hope, at Cape Point. Mountainous and rocky overview with ocean in background.
Cape of Good Hope.

The four of us at the Cape of Good Hope sign.
Isabel, Katja, Michelle, Me, Cape of Good Hope.

Cape Point from Cape of Good Hope, the mountainous rocky terrain jutting into the ocean.
Cape Point from Cape of Good Hope. There is a lighthouse and trail we walked nearly to the end of. When I was near the lighthouse I asked a couple to take my photo. The woman took my camera. She nearly dropped my camera in shock when I jumped on a ledge. She had to turn away while shaking and give the camera to her partner. He took the photo.

Standing on the edge of a rock jutting over the ocean.
This was a little later. I had to hop down to this ledge. Below this rock jutting out of the cliff was the pounding ocean.

Seals on a dock on the ocean. In Cape Town proper.
When we returned to Cape Town we saw seals resting on the docks at the waterfront.

The ride home was pleasant and I slept much more than on the way. When we arrived home I resumed normal things and walked to the beach. I think my first exam did not go well and thus I will study more for the next tests.

Wednesday 7 November 2007

Artwork by a local man living in the township. Figurines.
At the volunteer place I met this guy who sculpts this neat artwork.

Monday 12 November 2007

This was an all you can eat prawn day. Tyler, Matsu, and I went to gorge ourselves. Tyler challenged me to an eating contest. Whoever ate the least would run around Annie's Cove naked. Tyler and I tied at 90 prawns when I had to stop. He ate my last four making the score 94 to 90. He was victorious. I did not feel well and should have known he would eat more. Prawns are something I never want to eat again! When we returned to Annie's Cove I fulfilled my duty. I quickly stripped everything off to run around the student village. I was moving very fast. Fellow students were outside cheering and laughing as I zipped past. Kelvin laughed hysterically as he recorded the event on my camera. My friends have never seen me run so fast. Too bad I lost that video.

Thursday 22 November 2007

Thanksgiving Dinner, table of food, filled with people, about a dozen people
Someone wanted to have a potluck Thanksgiving dinner. So we pitched in to pull it together. We left full of food like we would have in the States.

Highlight: Bungee jumping.

Monday 26 November 2007

There was a big party at Plettenberg Bay that some of us went to. On the way home we stopped for a bungee jump. My friends already jumped so it was just me. One instruction was not to look down. They tied us up, double checked everything, and we hobbled to the edge.

Bungee jump with my clothes on
At the edge the first thing I did was look 216 meters (~709 feet) to the bottom. It did not phase me. They gave the countdown, I bent my knees, and shoved off as far as possible. Halfway down is when it occurred that I am flying through the air, and if there is a problem, it is now too late. This is when my heart started pumping! Now I waited for the cord to pull at my ankles. Soon enough, I could feel it tugging. It held and was a great jump.

When I was retrieved the operators told me I jumped much further than other people.

I heard they used to allow naked jumpers a free jump. So I enquired about it. They stopped that promotion because too many foreigners did it. I asked if I could jump a second time anyway, naked, with the strap around my waist. They talked to their manager who said I could go to my boxers. I agreed to go. There I was standing next to the ledge again. Now the operators were joking and having fun. We messed around and got ready. It was already a cold day. Being nearly naked combined with the wind exacerbated the chill. They gave me instructions on how to hold the cord.

Bungee jump in my boxers
I stepped back to the middle of the bridge, got ready, and ran for the edge as fast as I could! I sailed off the edge. This time the pull of the cord was different. It was another great jump. Once I was hanging I realized my willie was hanging out. So I tucked it back in and thought nothing more.

Bungee employee playing with my cold nipples
When I was pulled up this operator kept up the fun. We all had a laugh and enjoyed our experience.

I bought the videos and photos of the jump. When we returned home we all looked at the photos. Tyler pointed out that my willie was out in the photos! I had not seen it so we had a hearty laugh. The photo above is the only one where my body blocks it.

The rush kept me feeling great for the next two days.

On the way home from Plettenberg Bay we passed fellow volunteers. Someone came up with the idea to press ham. So there were four hairy rears pressed against the window of the car as we passed by.

If you are reading the abridged version, you may skip to the next highlight.

Friday 30 November 2007

Matsu, me, Eric at my first professional game, Cricket
Some of us went to the South Africa versus New Zealand cricket game. This was my first professional sporting event I had been to. It was fun to go and enjoy this with my friends.

Highlight: Volunteering with the local children.

Thursday 6 - Saturday 15 December 2007

Mai asked if I would help run a ten day volunteer camp. I agreed. I was in charge of ensuring that a few groups of boys were safe. We also had to ensure they were fed, went to bed, were entertained, and learned something. Volunteer cooks made meals much easier. Initially I was sent to try solicit food donations from the local grocery stores. When I went out, the common theme was that they were already out of their donation quotas. If I had done it again, I would have at least asked to buy things at cost to help with expenses.

This was a great camp where we hiked, swam, performed in plays, learned about self defense, health, and many other things. I grew fond of the kids.

One of the girls was a bit simple. She would sit at the bottom of the slide to have the water rush over her. Other kids kept sliding down and she would not move. She would cry after being hit and move right back where she was. She did this for the entire camp.

For a module on singing my group was not cooperating and did not finish their song. During their lunch recess we went back to finish the song. It was a new experience to have to be firm with the kids. I agreed to perform it with them so that we could finish.

We have many decisions that could alter our lives forever. I guess where we are at any particular moment is simply the result of all of the decisions we have or have not made leading up to this point. One of those forks was with an orphan at the camp. We started to make a bond and I began to contemplate adopting him. I do not remember talking to anyone about it, but merely pondering over it to myself. Eventually I decided I would not properly be able to care for and raise him by bringing him back to the States while I was studying. Had I made the decision to adopt him, that would have drastically altered my path.

Me with one of the students on my shoulders
We goofed around and tried to have fun. It was interesting to see the unique personalities of the kids. There were all sorts of kids: quiet, thoughtful, outgoing, introverted, and energetic. They all seemed to have fun.

One child during the camp brought the reality in South Africa back. The child had HIV/AIDS and had to go home because of the associated health problems. This was reality here. There were children in our camp who were orphans through no fault of their own. Numerous children are born with HIV/AIDS. Many are raised in orphanages because their parents and relatives are dead. They have almost nothing to go back to.

Despite the hardships and having very little, these children were the happiest I had ever seen. They appreciated life and could make the most of everything. I admired their strength to pull through this. It was nice to volunteer and help them get away from some of the realities of life, if only for ten days.

By the end I thought we developed a good bond with each other. When the bus returned the kids simply unloaded and disappeared. So much for that. I felt like I didn't even have a chance to say goodbye.

If you are reading the abridged version, you may skip to the end here.

Monday 17 December 2007

After volunteering it was time to travel until the flight home. So off I went. I already traveled west of Port Elizabeth so went east. On the way the stark contrasts in South Africa showed. Near a particular river it is especially evident. One side of the river has the wealthy area with modern lavish homes. The other side is a township with tin shacks. Wealth and poverty contrasted sharply. They were neighbors but likely never mingled with each other.

On one bus a young boy sat by me. We were able to talk since he knew some English. I bought him snacks from a store knowing he did not have much money. On the next stop, he did the same for me. I refused the snacks because of a sense of guilt from taking his money. So he kept it but was hurt. I still recall that years later and would not repeat it. I feel guilty about it. It is one of my few regrets. I cannot change it so have tried to be more gracious and sensitive about the goodwill gestures people make.

Waterfall from the top looking down
In this area I was hiking on my own. There was this waterfall which looked like the view might be great at the top. I found a way to pick and pull myself up through the brush. At the top was this view. While standing at the edge of the waterfall my camera slipped out of my hand. I instinctively reached for it and bent down. In the process I started to slip and lose my balance. The edge was in sight, and I was about to go over. I was at the top of a waterfall where falling meant certain death. I continued to bend down and threw my hand on my camera. That stopped the camera, helped me regain my balance, and stopped my foot from slipping. I slowly straightened up, slipped the lanyard around my wrist, and carefully climbed to safety.

Wednesday 19 December 2007

Village Dance, nine dancers
From one of the hostels they organized a mountain bike trip through a local village. They brought us to the top of the mountain so most of our biking would be down hill. Sometimes the hill was so steep that I was very concerned about my brakes failing or locking up. That would throw me down the hill and cause very painful injuries. At the village I was at the lead of the pack so saw a girl start changing. She took off her western styled top baring all and calmly put on a stereotypical African shirt. Then they performed for us.

We made it back safe without falling.

Blue translucent sea creature on the sand
On the beach was this creature. It was the first time seeing something like this. I wanted to touch the tentacles to see what it felt like but restrained myself.

Thursday 20 December 2007

Me sitting on an ostrich
There was a private game reserve that offered safaris. This female ostrich stayed on its eggs when we came close. It becomes submissive to male ostriches and the jeep. The guide allowed us to sit on it.

When we drove along a male ostrich felt threatened by the vehicle. It identified the vehicle and occupants as one entity and ran alongside the vehicle trying to attack it. It would jump and use its foot to hit the side of the jeep. Since it was right by me I touched it. It was dirty and grimy.

They had lions in another section of the game reserve. Before going into that partitioned area the guide loaded a gun and strapped it to his side. He instructed us to be quiet and calm inside. The lions were wild and could attack. We were tense while watching them. They started to become aggressive and we left.

On the safari we saw lions, giraffes, rhinos, and buffalos amongst other animals. It was great fun seeing them in a semi-wild environment.

Friday 21 December 2007

Lion attacking me
I visited my friend Darren in his home. He took me to a private hobby farm. We went into a cage and played with lion cubs. They were a bit rowdy and drew a little blood from my foot and hand.

Fire dancer at night, with the light trail frozen by the camera
While at his place Darren brought me to the beach. There was a fire dancer performing. It was very calming and awesome to watch. That was the first time I had heard of or watched fire dancing.

Mid to Late December 2007

In Durban I bought a necklace I really loved. I guess it was a symbol of my adulthood and the wonderful memories of the trip. A South African Indian woman and her daughter both chatted with me until I settled on it.

On one of the streets I wanted to go for a rickshaw ride for the first time. The driver pulls the cart by foot. I talked to the driver and told him that I only have 20 rand (~3 USD) so only go as far that is worth. He agreed. After going for a while I told him to stop. He said, "Okay, 100 rand." We had to argue for a while. I asked some vendors if they had change. They did not. In hindsight I think they knew he was trying to cheat me so were simply helping me out. Finally I just gave him the 20 rand and left. It was one of my first times that I experienced and started to learn that we have to be assertive.

Tuesday 25 December 2007

Hostel where I stayed, with pool and hammock
Christmas. My first away from home and on my own. The Amphitheatre Lodge and Backpackers put on a Christmas dinner for us. The day was filled by relaxing in the hammock and swimming in the pool.

During our dinner conversation other men brought up healthcare in the States. I was patriotic and still believed that the States was the best at everything including the healthcare system. They disagreed. The things I had come to believe were questioned: that they had to wait in lines for healthcare, the service was terrible, and they did not like it. The folks told me that public healthcare is great, efficient, and world class. Furthermore, unlike in the States, everyone was covered and they were not left with huge bills. Families did not become bankrupt because of health issues. My beliefs were being shaken up. I could not accept that public healthcare is good. It was too much for me. It did not matter if they were right or not, I did not want to hear it. So I excused myself. I felt like their attacks on America and its healthcare system were aimed directly at me. That was how closely I supported the system and held the beliefs. I was not able to see the truth in what they were saying even though my own hospital bill at the beginning almost made me forgo the trip. This was another concept that even though faulty, I held a strong emotional attachment to and could not see the faults. I could not listen to valid criticism.

In hindsight I could see that nationalism is foolish. Nationalism leads to a blind emotional attachment to the policies and actions of the country. People start to believe that the way they do things is the best. Progress is hindered because people cannot accept that there is a better way to do something than how they currently are.

Bush was in office during my stay in South Africa. People identified Bush as representing everyone in USA. Politics and people are identified as the same. The leaders won an election. That does not mean everyone likes the political figures or agrees with them. Because of that there was a high disdain towards Americans. Some people could see that being American does not mean we support our president. Others directed their disdain for America's policies at me. At times when people would ask where I was from, I could sense by how they asked if they were hostile towards Americans or not. Depending on their hostility I would say I am from Canada or America. When I said I am Canadian to those who disliked Bush, I could feel them instantly soften.

Wednesday 26 December 2007

Today I went to Lesotho.

Thursday 27 December 2007

Me hiking, with beautiful mountain scenery behind
After the trip to Lesotho I joined a day hike near the hostel. It was a great hike. That day was a bit wet so we had to be extra careful. Especially when going along the cliff walls using only a chain and our toes to pass the narrow ledges. This photo is of the scenery there. At one point I raced a guy I befriended up the steep incline to the top. We frequently had to use our hands to climb. He was surprised that an American, as he put it, could beat him to the top. He thought we were all lazy and unfit. I may be those things, but maybe a little less than he thought.

Me standing by a ledge with a wall of fog behind
At the top was this. A kilometer (~half mile) drop straight down. We could not see down because of the fog. But I ate my lunch with my legs dangling over the edge. Further on was a nice waterfall that we relaxed near for a while.

Me hanging from a chain ladder on the edge of a cliff
Again, I felt like messing around.


It was time to return to the States. For one of my classes I did not know if I failed or passed. I was right on the edge. It was the lowest grade I have ever received. It was difficult to adjust to essay exams after adapting to multiple choice and short answer tests. Luckily they allow retakes if the final score is between a certain amount. So I retook it from my home university. The professor probably passed me so he did not have to deal with it again.

I started to realize that earning money, buying a house, getting married and having kids is not what turns me on at this time. Also, fulfillment is more important than material things. One way to get that is by volunteering.

Happy Travels

Visit my South Africa travel advice page for just that.

My first trip outside of USA was to Canada.
While in South Africa, I visited Lesotho.
My next trip was to the Western United States.