Garden Route, South Africa & Farewell, Katsjourney Around the World: 26 January, 2003

: Sun, 26 Jan 2003 06:06:16 -0600
To My Family and Friends,

I have just returned back to Cape Town from a trip on the Garden Route.  As I had mentioned in a previous newsletter, the drive takes you across the southern part of the country/continent along the Indian Ocean. I was expecting amazing views and pristine beaches.  It was that, but so much more.  There are actually wetlands along the coast.  So on one side you have the IndWest on the N2 victoria bayian Ocean, sometimes calm along a palm-lined beaches and sometimes extremely rough along the rugged, rocky coast.  On the other side are wetlands with small rivers and lagoons and pine trees and mountains.   It is lush and
green, even during the current dry summer months.

I will tell you about a few highlights…We stayed in Mossel Bay in a train the first night.  It is a bed & breakfast that was once sleeper cars for a train. The tracks run adjacent to the beach.  The tracks are no longer in use and now the train is a place to stay.  train hotel train hotel insideVery cool with a little restaurant and bar with a deck right on the beach.  The beach is of the tan/brown fine sand variety.  It is not so white and powdery, more brown and spongy.  Very soft on the feet.  Stunning!  Also there is the first Post Office Tree in the world!

posing on beach

The ships en route from Europe to India used to leave messages and letters on a tree in Mossel Bay for returning ships to bring home back in the 1500’s & 1600’s!

We also stayed in Knysna (pronounced nighs-na).  It is a hot spot on the Garden Route.  There is an estuary or lagoon that the town borders.  We took a boat ride out the “heads”.  The heads are the immense rocky outcroppings that guard the lagoon from the the headsIndian Ocean.  Our tour guide said that they are the most dangerous heads in the world.  There are many boating deaths through there every year as they are smashed against the rocks trying to pass through.  They also have oyster farms in the lagoon….Bunches of them.

The Knysna oysters are famous year round.  And delicious!  But don’t drink the water.  I took a bath in our hotel and the water was brown.  Not sure if I was clean or not when I got out!

In Plettenburg Bay I went to an elephant farm.  They saved the lives of 7 elephants that were to be killed to cull the herd in Kruger National Park. These elephants are very tame.  At the farm you can walk with them and pet them and feed them.  It was scary at first to have this massive breathing trunk coming at you to get a handful of fruit.  They are such sweet beasts, though.  They have a female that is ready to breed and a male that will be ready in a couple of years.  The gestation period for an elephant is 22 months.  So they should have a baby elephant in about 4 years!kat elephantkat elephant feeding

About 20 minutes east of P. Bay is Tsitsikama National Park.  It is about 80 kilometers along the coast and the borders go 4kms into the ocean to protect the marine life…yes    they are sharks!  We hiked in the park and took a boat ride up Storms River.  The river is in a huge natural gorge made of sandstone and ore.  There is so much ore that the waters from the mountains run through the rock and turn the river black.  The black river runs into the coral blue-green Indian Ocean.  It is quite a beautiful sight.marc kat bridgecave

On the way back to Cape Town we took a more northerly trek through the Karoo.  The name sounds cooler than it is.  The terrain became much more arid.  The vegetation was like the small west Texas scrub brush.  In fact, I could have been in Texas if it weren’t for the higher mountains Congo wildlife ranch We did have a wonderful experience in Oudtshoorn.  We went to a wildlife reserve there that focuses the breeding of crocodiles and cheetahs for research and to supply zoos, etc.  I was able to go into a cheetah enclosure and pet a cheetah.  Yes, they are tame, yet still dangerous animals.  It purred then I rubbed it behind the ear!  Just like a domesticated cat.

kat cheeta

The guy that was our guide was like Steve, the Crocodile Hunter.  He was in those croc enclosures getting them agitated so they would snap at him.  No thanks! Interesting note…Did you know that when a female lays here eggs, the sexes have not been decided? crocs The eggs lower in the nest (where its cooler) become female and the eggs on top become males because it is a bit warmer.  Also the males will eat all of their young when the mom carries them in her mouth down to the water for the first time after they hatch.  Seem like a strange instinct for the survival in the crocodile.  Interesting!

My time in South Africa is winding down to just a few more days.  There are a few farewell events, bye to my friends at the Red Cross, packing, cleaning up and then it’s on the road again!  I am so thankful for experiences that I have had here.  I would not trade anything for it.  It has been an amazing learning experience that few people on this earth ever have or make the time to do.  Immersing yourself in a strange and foreign culture forces oneself to get stronger.  To do things you might not want to do, but have to do survive.  It forces you to communicate in new ways.  It also gives you time to look into yourself and realize how thankful you are to live in a place with so many freedoms.  And yet also hate some of those very things about that culture from which you come.goodbye party  Louisagoodbye macarena

South Africa is a country of total contrast.  Extreme wealth vs. extreme poverty.  Tall mountains vs. sandy beaches.  Raging oceans  vs. dry desert-like air. Some of the worlds worst violent crime vs. most of the friendliest people I have ever met. The people are knowledgeable about world politics and economies and yet we know very little about this forgotten land at the bottom of the African continent.  It is an amazing place.  An emerging country that has so far to go in some ways.  If  the government can remain democratic and stable, they have a great chance to continue moving forward to creating a large middle class to sustain the economy.

I am feeling a bit sentimental as my time here disappears.  My friend, Caroline, said that time will move very slowly because I do not have to rush around and be at appointments, etc.  She is right, it has very often moved painfully slowly.  Now the rest of the week will fly by and I will be gone, but a better person.  Thanks again to all of you who gave suggestions to me and introduced me to people here.  It has really helped out immensely.

I will have access to e-mail for a few more days here.  Then I will try to find an internet café in Mauritius to send an update there.  I hope all of you are well.  I miss you all and see many of your personalities in people I meet here.  Funny, we are all human and in many ways, the same everywhere in the world.  We are all products of our creator.

Pray for peace.

Love,

Kathleen

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Bainskloof &Tulbagh, South Africa: Katsjourney Around the World: 17 January, 2003

Date: Fri, 17 Jan 2003 04:13:39 -0600
Greetings everyone!

I hope you are all doing well this winter.  I heard the States have been having some cold weather.  I am so happy to be experiencing summer in the southern hemisphere!  I have a couple of more weeks in South Africa and I figured it was time for a newsletter update.

Oh, thanks to everyone who sent me Christmas cards and gifts.  I received about 30 of them!  It was nice to have reminders of all the people I miss at home.  Every card and child’s picture was up on the tile on my kitchen wall until just yesterday!

My kitchen (and bar)!

My kitchen (and bar)!

Overall, I have continued to enjoy my time here in this amazing country.  I still have my Sundownerlove-hate moments.  But I have seen almost everything on my list and have met dozens of wonderful people who will be friends for life.

Last weekend I went with my friends Verway and Estee and their baby (and her brother, sister-in-law and their baby) to their family cottage in Bainskloof.  It is a tiny town in the mountains about an hour and one half north, northwest of Cape Town.  Actually, there is only a town there because there used to be two tollbooths over the mountains for the horse and buggies traveling to and from Cape Town. Sunset with Vewey

The cottage was rustic.  Very rustic.  I was warned about snakes in the high brush around the cottage, scorpions and the mean baboons that will break in and steal food, break open make-up and toothpaste and basically steal anything shiny.  They even creep in through the burglar bars, so you can’t leave windows open.  Remember, EVERYONE has burglar bars in this country, rich and poor.  So strange to me to see this sort of protection miles from civilization in a tiny village. Baby bath time

But what a marvelous time we had.  The babies were great and really traveled well on their dad’s backs as we hiked along the river’s boulders.  You see, all we had to do was climb down the kloof from the cottage and we were in this amazing riverbed surrounded by small trees and large granite boulders everywhere.  The river was crystal clear coming out of the mountains.  In the winter it is raging, but in the summer it collects in small rock pools that are perfect for relaxing, swimming, etc.  Some are deep enough for diving.  It was so pristine and remote, that I half expected a dinosaur to come around one of the bends.   It was the perfect place to picnic, read, swim and daydream.

Kat river rocks

The next day we had lunch in a small town called Tulbagh.  Trust me, this is the kind of place you would never, ever see one of those horrible tour buses pull up.  It is an artist’s community with lovely little stone guesthouses with thatched roofs and little wine farms.  It was like being in another world circa 1800’s.  Side note:  Some of you know this, many do not…The wine here is fantastic.  It is the best-kept secret.  If you see a South African wine on a wine list or in a store, try it!  Don’t scoff at the cheap price. It is just inexpensive.  A $3 bottle here is the quality of a $28 retail bottle in the US.

Tulbagh1 Wines of SA

So, this week I have been working for SARCS (South African Red Cross Society).  I am working under the direction of the National Peer Youth Director, David Stephens.    It is organized disorganization, as I expected, but they do manage to get things done…at a much slower business pace than I am accustomed.  The directors are all on a meager salary, but everyone else is a volunteer.   I have done a little bit of administration work.  We had to put together a report/summery of a conference that they did in December.

It was quite easy, but it took all day to do it.  Something that would have probably taken me an hour or so on my laptop back home .  There are long lunches and tea breaks and lots of smiles in the office.  I hear it is a fairly common work ethic in South Africa, especially in laid-back Cape Town.

With David’s department of all volunteers we do workshops and conferences for youth in trouble regarding safe sex and HIV/AIDS education.  One of the highlights is taking a rubber penis and demonstrating how to put a condom on it!  No, seriously, these kids need to be educated.  I am stunned at the attitudes.  Especially the “gangsters” (gang members).  They are mostly ruthless. They are so poor.  They have 9 brothers and sisters.  They don’t know their dads, they have never been hugged because mom is busy taking care of everyone (if she is still alive), and they are forced to quit school at a young age to earn so few Rand to help support the family.  The gang is their family.  And life is completely worthless.  That being the case, it is so easy to kill another person.  Life has no value.  It makes them hardened killers before they can even drive.

David is fantastic with these kids.  He has gotten many to volunteer around the office and takes them to church with him.  Still, they may listen to his message, but to actually get a child to leave a gang and change his life around?  Doesn’t happen much.

SARC logo Red Cross

Now, does using protection while having sex matter?  In the townships (where most of the poor live), men rule. They don’t want their women empowered in any way.  Women are objects from an early age.  So they can’t tell the man to use protection.  And the fear of DYING from sex doesn’t bother many kids.  Remember, life is worthless.  So the whole “It could kill you” campaign isn’t very powerful.  In fact some guys are proud to die “like a man” with AIDS.  What an eye opening experience.  I hope I can take some of what I learned here and help kids in need all over the world.

West on the N2 victoria bay

Garden route preview: west on the N2, Victoria Bay

Next week I am going on a driving vacation along the Garden Route with my friends Marc and Gerhard.  It will be a 5-day adventure along the southern coast of the African continent. There are caves and ostrich farms and national forests and a steam train for part of the route….plus amazing views of the Indian Ocean.   Then I will be packing up and doing going away parties (some things never change) my last week.

I arrive in Mauritius in Feb 1.  I will be meeting my old college roommate (from the Cambridge, England days) and life long friend, Joanne.   Put on your disco shoes, baby!  😉   For those of you not familiar with the place, Mauritius is a tropical island off the coast of Madagascar…perhaps 1000 kms east towards Australia.  Many wealthy South Africans go there on holiday.  It has been occupied by the Brits and the French and is supposed to have something for all of its visitor’s…splendid beaches, mountains, French food, casinos, water sports and malaria.  Yes, I will be taking my malaria meds again soon.

Anyway, as they say on the big screen….That’s all for now folks.  I will try so send another newsletter before I leave here.

I am thinking of all of you in my own special way.  You are all with me.

Love,

Kathleen