Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Happy Holidays from sunny South Africa

It’s been a very long while since I’ve written anything about my continuing adventures, but, as I’ve mentioned before, things don’t seem quite so interesting once you are living a scheduled life again.

Things have been going great for me here in South Africa. I was “promoted” to Projects Assistant at my internship with Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA) and have taken on more responsibility working with several community based tourism projects. It definitely feels more rewarding to actually get to meet the people and see the places that you are working with to help stimulate sustainable development using tourism. It combines elements of all my interests—responsible tourism, responsible development, and responsible engagement with local communities!

I got to go on my first business trip as well! FTTSA Executive Director Jennifer Seif and I took a trip to Mthatha for meetings with two Local Coordinators and government tourism officials for the projects I am assisting on as well as a visit to the community of Qunu to discuss a potential tourism development project.

Qunu is where Nelson Mandela was born and where he now as a vacation home. A museum has been created as well on a hill overlooking the community. The interesting thing is, that the community of Qunu has had lots of folks, especially government, come through to offer them training or empty promises of developing tourism in the region. So far no real delivery, and the Qunu residents haven’t substantially benefitted from any of the tourism development in the area. Most tourists drive through, stop to take a photo in front of Mandela’s house and maybe visit the museum. They don’t even bother to actually stay in the any of the traditional guesthouses, take a tour of the township or meet any locals. Perhaps it’s not everyone’s idea of a holiday—to actually experience the culture of the place they are visiting.

It’s strange to start to learn about and care about politics in a country that I was determined to leave behind me a few months ago. It’s addicting here; the more I get to know this country and the people, the more I am simultaneously frustrated, heart broken, and hopeful. What a strange mix of emotions!

I’m happy to be here now, though, for the holidays. It will be nice to spend it with Aunt Linda, Uncle Allan, Tisha, Tucker.

Monday, 27 October 2008

[Illegal] Alien

It has been a long while since I've written at all, but that is what happens when you get sucked into the void of "real" life. I guess if you consider "real" to mean a scheduled routine that only varies slightly week to week. Not that it is bad for everyone, I just felt happier and more myself while I was travelling (go figure, who wouldn't feel refreshed doing exactly what you want, when you want to with no one to really answer to and no job lurking over your head to return to!).

Chioma is the little girl that Tisha, my cousin Tucker's teacher, is adopting from here in South Africa. She is adorable, and clearly I can't help myself from tickling the shit out of her!

I think if it weren't for my family here I would be gone. No, I know that. I've started an unpaid internship at an organization called Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa ( that has helped to fill the void of endless hours spent lounging by the pool, and the work has definitely helped remind me there are still people in this country that care about how their actions affect others and the environment and have hope for a better future for South Africa.

I've also been trying to help out with a few other organizations that my aunt has done work with in order to try to keep good spirits. Both groups focus on providing educational and leadership opportunities to disadvantaged South African students (; Plus I get to bond with my aunty over some of the work--Sweet!

Yes, I was scared of the baby lions at the Lion Park. The little one named Isis was being fussy that day and decided to stretch, growl and turn her back towards me and face the corner in an act of defiance.

This work is in contrast to some of the other "colorful" characters (to put it lightly) that I have encountered here who have expressed disdain for anyone who is different from them, and I don't just mean the old white Afrikaaners! It is confusing and frustrating to be in an environment where you are constantly confronted with race and class politics. Sure you have to navigate your way through society carefully in the US, but it is not nearly as aggressive as here. It just makes me think back to the anti-racist work some of my friends were involved in back in the states and how critical they could be--what would they make of the situation here? It would take a lifetime to try to unravel and understand South African and why the folks in the cities here can be so nasty towards one another.

On a perhaps less philosophical note, I am officially an illegal alien and have been since September 24th of last month. Funny to say that publicly on the Internet--should I worry about being arrested?

The Lion Park also had an area where you can feed the giraffes. Their tongues are long, black, rough and nasty...

Actually, it is all the result of some egregious inconsistencies in the Department of Home Affairs, responsible for immigration/visas, etc., here in South Africa. I have turned in all the unnecessary documents required of me--including an x-ray of my chest, medical exam, R3000 ($300USD) deposit, a receipt saying that I sent for a background check from the FBI, and copies from all my bank accounts--and should be okay by next week. The official advice from the supervisor of Temporary Residence Permits was to "not get caught" by immigration officials. Yikes!

That all being said, my plan is to stay in South Africa through the New Year doing odd work to try to earn some extra money and complete a couple of volunteer jobs and my internship. I definitely don't have the money to continue to travel right now and still make it home...

...As you can tell from the classic disgusted look on my face!

I have taken a few trips, though. I tried to hit Swaziland for a nice weekend with my aunt and to renew my South African tourist visa, only to be told that they no longer issue three month visas at that border and the most he could give me was one week in order to report to the Department of Home Affairs. Oops!

Swaziland was great, though! Lots of rocky hills and green mountains. We only stayed one night at a B&B that overlooked a valley with a river and small dam. Very peaceful and beautiful. It was fun with just the two of us bumping around.

I also hit Durban to see the Currie Cup semi-final match and for some beach-time. The game was incredible, not because of the actual action (I get the basic premise that meatball shaped men with short, tight shorts wrestle around after the ball and try to score like American football), but because of our ability to still climb down the steepest set of stadium stairs every despite the amazing amount of beer imbibed. It was an incredible feat that included several pints of watery beer that tastes like Bud, some pre-game boerworst, and an Australian guy that haggled my girl friend about US politics. Simply amazing!

The star of the show at the Lion Park. Seeing so many lions lazing around was not quite as impressive as on National Geographic--they were fed meat off the back of a truck, which kind of seems to defeat the purpose of existence for such a predator.

The beach was not too shabby as well, and I came back BROWN. Well, more of a red-brown. Our last two nights north of Durban staying at a B&B near the beach were certainly interesting (I met a whole slew of "colorful" folks!), but I'll save the stories for some other time!

I've definitely been partying it up here as well--am still in the process of making the Pretoria circuit of bars and clubs. Not so good for the liver.

I'll try to post more about the small side trips I've been doing lately, as they are still interesting and exotic stories.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

A Huntin' We Will Go

Two weekends ago I headed up to Jakalsfontein a wild game farm in Limpopo, South Africa with a whole band of folks from the US Embassy, some US Marines and a few South Africans. Our mission for the weekend: kill African Bambis.

Well, I suppose our goal for the weekend was more along the lines of have fun sitting around a fire and drinking whilst recounting the hunts from earlier in the day.

Now, I am not ordinarily a hunter in any capacity (especially considering that the topic of hunting will likely alienate many of my friends back home!). Call me an old school-Jack London-DIY kinda girl, but I don't think having only held a live gun and pulled the trigger once (with the exception of the time I held the machine gun in the Congo--can't seem to dig up those photos still!) makes me a qualified hunter. A true hunter appreciates what nature offers, takes responsibility for what she takes from nature, and above all, should be present for the whole process. In other words, don't just shoot animals willy nilly and run off for more slaughter while the farm staff load your animal on the truck, take it back to camp, and skin and clean the carcass. I'm clearly no where near the stage of helping clean the carcass or tracking an animal for hours, so I was merely a spectator for the weekend and spectated some disturbing behaviours. Most of our crew was alright, though, and genuinely hunted with the best intentions.

Amelia, Uncle James, Chris, and me after Chris shot a beautiful male impala and immediately retired from African hunting afterwards.

Randall, me, fully loaded and Mindy. Funny how I've gone from bikinis and flip-flops to fatigues and rifles on this trip!

I was surprised by my reaction to it all. Surprisingly I was only startled by the gunshots and not by the aftermath (again, with the exception of the few times I had the misfortune to be with ungrateful "gunslingers," as I like to call the bastards). There is something very beautiful in the process, even just to watch. To see someone have to deliberate about whether or not to take a life, whether they want to be responsible for that life, to see the exchange between those heartfelt hunters and nature, and to be present in the complete dismantling of the animals body is far less gruesome than one would think.

Amelia, Me, Mindy and Randall enjoying our lunch of sliced bread and mechanically processed hot dogs.

I have to say the farm characters were a treat as well. Uncle James was our connection to the farm, and he, a self-professed "legend," was the Afrikaaner hunter to the mark. He even came complete with khaki short-shorts, a big Santa Claus beard and buckets of stories of the hundreds of elephants he's had to kill. Between Uncle James, winks from the farm owner and Marine drinking games, the trip was overall very entertaining and educational!

Uncle Suki the farm manager, Uncle James our guide, and the winky farm owner.

The whole gang minus my Uncle Allan who took the photo.

Somewhere in the past few weeks I've also made the subconcious decision to stay in South Africa for an extended period of time until I can get back on my feet. I started taking a TEFL certification course so I can find a job teaching English here, and am doing odd house/dog-sitting jobs (not as bad as you think: weekend naked party for one, anyone?) for folks from the Embassy. I'll be sure to update on anything interesting!

Monday, 21 July 2008

Slloooooowwwwiinnnggg Dooowwwwnnnn....

Time seems to pass quickly for me whether I am traveling or doing absolutely nothing, which is my current M.O. I've been in Pretoria now for nearly three weeks and have really failed to accomplish anything, including finding a way to get a job so I can continue to travel.

For some reason I was under the impression that South Africa would be much like my other destinations so far: you could just walk into a place, ask for a job, they'd tell you to start that evening and POOF!, you're employed. Here you must arrange a work visa, and to do so, a company must go through far too many hoops to prove that you, the flaming American, are the only qualified person for the job over any other South African candidates. And with an unemployment rate around 50%, that makes sense! I wouldn't want to take a job from a South African anyways, especially since I have other options (including going home and/or begging relatives for some dough!).

So, I am currently exploring some other alternatives. I have the go-ahead to stay for as long as I want with my aunt, and am considering staying here to take a holistic healing course (think massage, shiatsu, reiki, acupressure, etc.) whilst trying to find some under-the-table work. There is also the possibility of some volunteer work in either Plettenburg Bay, South Africa or Mozambique.

But first, I have a health issue to attend to. I wish I could say that traveling is always peaches n' cream; that there are no low points, no points of depression or worry. This is definitely not the case, and I'm sure most long-term travelers have at least one big scare on their trips. Mine just happens to be a little outpatient procedure that will cost me about $1000 (about a third of the money I have left!).

I've debated whether or not to post anything about my current affairs, but it's been so long since I've written anything, that I thought it would be important to tell why. Plus I want to share so that I don't have to bear the weight alone (quite selfish of me, I know!).

For over a year now I've had [fellas, you might want to stop now, unless you are man enough to sympathize with a problem only women worry about] abnormal PAP smears--what a gross phrase! In the past few months, things have gotten a little worse, and I have some abnormal cells that are at high risk of eventually developing into cervical cancer. BUT, they won't ever do so, because I found an awesome lady-doctor (what a nightmare, to have to worry about finding a competent lady-doctor abroad) who has assured me all this is nothing to panic about and she will take care of me for, really, about a fraction of what this would cost me in the states.

To be honest, when my lady-doctor first discussed this all with me, I was more worried that my remaining funds--barely enough to get back to the states--would be all dried up and my grand adventure would be over. My heart sunk to think that this was how it would end; in defeat rather than with a bang. My Aunt Linda is the best, though, and has reassured me over and over again not to worry, I always have a place to stay with her and between all the good family and folks back in the States, I should never worry about being stranded and broke. I think that she means she'll bail me out in case of emergency...

For now, I am still laying very low and behaving quite normal. We'll see how long that will last!

Monday, 7 July 2008

Back in Pretoria

Cape Town felt a lot like Seattle. And I felt fairly uncomfortable there.

It was sunny and cold most of the time, so other than for a quick look, there was little sense in heading to the beaches. The city is sort of nestled between the coast and mountains and very picturesque (no wonder it rivals Rio de Janeiro for the world's most beautiful city).

Most of my time was spent lounging about Backpackers on Castle, a hostel partially owned by some friends that is right off the trendy Long Street, or walking around the city aimlessly. Long Street is the Capital Hill (for you Seattleites) of Cape Town--every one is dressed like a hipster, there are tons of bars, clubs and hippy cafes and even used book shops and vintage clothing stores. I went a little mad in the bookshops and spent an entire day searching for some good reads to pass the time.

It was nice to be on my own again. There were no awkward, "what do you want to do now?" or "which way should we go?" It was only me. So when I got to a turn, there was no one to consult, I just went. I would walk for hours to get to some silly lighthouse way out on the tip of Cape Town only realize I didn't care at all about the lighthouse and just wanted a quiet place to read.

I wasn't a complete loner, though. There were only a few people staying at the backpackers, so it felt more like we were all living in a flat together than staying at a hostel. I would veg out on the couch with Elma or be cooking with Natsumi. One day, Stefanie, a traveling German worker, and her Zamiban boyfriend Thomas invited me to drive out to the Cape of Good Hope with them. We got a very late start as we had been out drinking the night before and had some Absinthe ( is STRONG, and it makes you go crazy; no wonder it is illegal in the States!) so were hurting something fierce in the morning. I woke up still drunk, stumbled to KFC (yes, there are KFCs, McDonalds, and any other sort of greasy, nasty, heart clogging fast food joints you could want here in SA) and returned to pass out on the couch. Not so glamorous...

Needless to say, we left the hostel around 2:30 pm and proceeded to get lost for the next hour before finally getting back on track and heading to the Cape. It was already getting dark by the time we arrived at 5:30 and the park was closed. Oops. At least I can say I drove to the Cape and saw the park gates. That counts for something, right?

My last day in Cape Town it started to rain, a good sign it was time to leave. I arrived back into Joburg and was met by my Aunt Linda and Uncle Allan at the airport to return "home." Indeed, Pretoria does feel a lot like home--it is familiar and I can completely be a slob at my Aunt's house. Suddenly I don't have to worry about which hostel to stay at or how to cook dinner for one. I can sleep in late, stay in pajamas all day and watch t.v.

I'm not a complete slug; I did hit the American Embassy 4th of July party. It didn't feel at all patriotic, but my old housemate from Seattle, John Clemo, was there. He's a Peace Corps volunteer somewhere up north and has been here for several months now. I haven't seem him since Seattle, so it was such a treat to get to talk to someone who knows me. No silly small chat to break the ice!

I now will take care of some serious matters here, though. Such as why my student loan forbearance application didn't go through, how to renew my travel insurance, why I have been sick for the past month, and hitting the spa with my auntie. It's strange to have to think about these "real world" items right now after having put them off for so long (using the excuse of poor internet connection and lack of access to a telephone).

Sunday, 22 June 2008

The Big Break-Up with the TWBR Crew

So, since my last post the guys of the World by Road team and I have split. We met a guy at the hostel here in Windhoek who is starting an amazing organization called Promote Africa ( that promotes local African artists, musicians, writers, etc. as well as provided micro-finance loans and grants. We interviewed Ben and afterwards attended the series of free hip-hop concerts around Windhoek in celebration of World Music Day. The guys broke the news that they wanted to part ways early in the day, so I was determined to celebrate/rage that night, and some new found friends helped make it happen!

Windhoek is quite small, but still has a good nightlife for the most part. Ben, April, Laurie, Robby, Fu (all Americans), and I headed out to the last big free show with Namibian hip-hop star "The Dogg" and then hit El Cubano (most of us made it). It was a good night out, although there were definitely some snafus: Ben was mugged by a guy with a knife while April and I snuck into the club. Hmm...not quite the safest of nights, I guess. But we still had fun, and I made some new traveling friends.

The following day I started making plans with Robby, Laurie and Fu to rent a car and head to the 300m/1000ft sand dunes in the Namib National Park in southern Namibia. I had to rent the car, since I was the only one with a driver's license, but all the cars were manual transmission (which I have no clue how to drive!). So I had to slowly and awkwardly make it out of the parking lot and around the corner before Robby could take over for the 400km drive to the park through mountains and down dirt roads.

The drive was beautiful, and we only almost died once when Robby hit a soft patch of gravel and spun out. We arrived at the park just as it was closing and had to pay the park entrance fee of $80N/person. The card machine was down, so we didn't pay the $900N for camping and were told to return the next day.

We woke up at the crack of dawn and sped to Dune 45 for a sunrise photo and breakfast. Then we drove to the end of the park, hiked 5km to the base of Crazy dune, then started our ascent up the 1000ft dune in the heat of the day. Not the best of ideas since it was about 33C/90F degrees outside and dry!!! On the hike back in we had hoped one of the many trucks driving past would stop to pick us up, but we had to hike most of the way before an Afrikaans guy from Swapkupmund returned to pick us up. Thank God! We were all dehydrated and sore! We hit another unmarked dune for sunset then headed back to camp. It gets to be about 7C in the desert at night, and I broke out into hives it was so cold (yes, I am allergic to the cold!).

We managed to sneak into Sesrium canyon the next morning for a quick look-see and then leave the park without paying at all for the two nights camping or the second day's park pass. Oops! Guess we stuck it to the man?!

Just said bye to my new friends yesterday then grabbed a bus to Cape Town, where I am now. Am still bus-lagged from the 20+ hour bus ride, and will write more about CT as soon as I explore.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Angola to Namibia in Less than a Week?! Que rapido!

We blazed through Angola in only five days, and my head is still spinning. Angola is not what I expected. At all. It is absolutely beautiful in every possible way: gorgeous landscape, wonderful people and the promise of a up-and-coming tourist destination. As compared to Gabon and the Congos, Angola is much drier and cooler. It reminded me a lot of Eastern Washington at times, and the sparse dispertion of people across Angolan meant that often I'd forget I was halfway around the world in Africa still. Many towns are still dusty and have a ghost town feel to them, though. As if normal town life was suspended once buildings started getting shelled. And indeed, every town we went through had skeleton structures and building façades covered in bullet holes. One of the best was “Hotel Tourstico” in Quibala that basically consisted of the front of the hotel and a sign—the entire back of the building was bombed out.

It was good to be out of francophone Africa as well, and to get to speak Portuguese again. Lubango, in the South of Angola, looked and felt a little like Brasil and even had a giant statue of Cristo Rei overlooking the city from the adjacent mountains, Rio de Janeiro style. We camped most of the way through Angola, though, as accomodation is still VERY expensive, and stayed one night in Catholic Mission in Dondo for free.

Angola seems like the kind of place in which a true traveler could get lost. Because it has slightly a bad rap from the long civil war that only ended in 2002, and since it is quite difficult and tedious to get a visa for the country, let alone get to the country from outside Africa, it is not teeming with travelers. Yet. But it is so beautiful, friendly and unique, that I could definitely see myself getting stuck here for a while. It’s a good thing we didn’t visit the costal town of Benguela, the “cultural capital” of Angola with plenty of beach capoeira, or I might have had the guys leave me there!

The five short days in Angola were quickly over, though, and we continued south into Namibia to the town of Tsumeb, just outside Etosha National Park. I was completely shell shocked to be suddenly in English-speaking Africa. We were on paved road with no surprise potholes or deviations, only the occasional cattle crossing. And there were modern gas stations with snacks, fast food restaurants and fast internet. Angola had some of these luxuries, but in Namibia it is the norm.

We’ve now stayed three nights at the Mousebird Hostel here in Namibia that is quite like every good hostel—clean beds, well stocked kitchen, bar—and feels like heaven after the bare accomodations we’ve gotten used to.

Yesterday we headed to Etosha national park to have our African safari experience. The park was teeming with giraffes, zebras, springbok, gemsbock, ostriches, wildebeest, elephants, warthogs and even a herd of kudo. No predatory animals though. Although we almost got taken out by an angry elephant. The guys are yahoos, and in order to get “good shots” hopped out of the car to take photos of animals or even tried to have someone ride on top of one of the trucks filming (which we got in trouble for). Mark drove right up to a herd of elephants crossing the road, and while I quietly pleaded with him to just stop the f*ing car and take a photo rather than continue to inch closer while hanging out the window, one of the elephants got upset. We were only about 20 feet away, and the elephant turned towards us, raised his trunk and huffed. It stayed in that position until the herd had all crossed into the bush and then continued to turn around every few feet as they retreated. I was not to happy. Sure it’s great to get so close to the animals, but not that close. It’s disrespectful to the park, other visitors and the animals to be so reckless, and the fact that the elephant felt threatened obviously means we were too close!!

The park was still great, though, and I was sad we only had half a day to explore. I know I’m going to have to try to see some of the parks in South Africa now (especially since we didn’t get to see any lions, cheetahs, hyenas, etc.). We’re headed to Windhoek later today and then will continue south to see some of the giant red sand dunes in the south of Namibia before finally hitting South Africa, the Garden Route and Cape Town. My time with the guys is starting to run short, though, as I have a flight back to Pretoria from Cape Town on July 3rd (so I can be back to celebrate Independence Day with my Aunt!), so we might be parting ways sooner than later. Perhaps a good thing for me; three months traveling with these guys is plenty!