Sunday, July 8, 2007

Updated African blog with new photos and video clips

First off, let me just preface this blog by letting you know that I look like a big fat cow in the pictures because I am donning like three layers of clothing--it's winter here. I know that doesn't explain the fat in my face, but just go with it, please. When I return home Holly has promised to help me get into shape.;-) Eating the food has not been a problem--eating too much of the food has been a problem.

Wow! I have seen and experienced so much over the past couple of days. I believe I left off letting ya'll know that we were going to Robben Island, which held the prison camp where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years as a political prisoner. Well, we made it to the island. It was a short boat ride from Cape Town to Robben Island--about 30 minutes.

The island is still inhabited by the people who work on the island and a few others. The majority of the island is inhabited by African penguins (also called Jackass penguins because of they sound like donkeys) and lots of large rabbits. They are doing construction on the prison cells where Nelson Mandela was kept, so we weren't able to see his cell, but we did a good idea of the conditions. The tour guides are all ex-convicts of the prison--they were all former political prisoners.

It was really interesting to get a tour of the prison from a person who actually lived through the experience (although he was there after Mandela was moved to another location). Here are some photos of the island, our guide from the prison, the penguins and the rabbits.


We visited Table Mountain on Monday. It was absolutely spectacular. The day started off cold and cloudy. We were afraid we weren't gonna be able to see anything but the weather cleared as the day went on and we had fantastic views. It was a nice cable-car ride up the mountain. Here are some photos from Table Mountain.

We did something odd and off the beaten path Monday night--we had dinner with a local family in their home. This dinner was organized by our travel agent. It's supposed to give visitors a "behind-the-scenes" look into the local culture and community. Our gracious hosts were Ann and Reggie Johnson. Reggie was involved in the political movements and they both clearly remember Apartheid.

I want to mention something about race. Race is still very much part of the culture here in South Africa. And, to talk about race here is not taboo like it is in the states. People are very aware and proud of their race, but they also still classify each other by race. For example, there are three races in South Africa: whites, colored and blacks. None of the classifications have derrogatory meanings. The differences between the races can be defined as follows (according to Ann and Reggie): Blacks are the native Africans--they have prominant facial features such as full lips, high cheekbones and small ears; Colored people are people of mixed races--they have brown skin and hair more consistent like white people; whites are people of mostly European decent--most of them are not of mixed race and they are clearly white. I find the classification of people a little awkward to listen to but I not only heard it from Ann and Reggie (who are colored) but also from tour guides (blacks and whites) and store clerks and so forth. It was all very bizarre.

Today we took a day-long tour of the Penninsula. It was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. We visited the Cape of Good Hope, took a short boat ride to see the seals, went to the top of the cape, and finished it off with a visit to Boulder Island where lots of African penguins call home. I'll have to upload some more shots and videos of the various places, but here is a small sample:

We finished our shopping today in Cape Town. The store clerk that followed us around (as they do in all of the stores) asked me where we were from and I told him. I then asked where he was from. He asked, "why?" I told him because he had asked where we were from. He then told me Uganda. I took a gulp--having just seen The Last King of Scottland not too long ago. He then asked me if I had heard of it and I told him I had. He asked if I had heard about the genocides and I said yes. I then asked him if he was there during the genocides and he said yes. He said that he lost several family members in the killings, even his mother. I didn't know what to say to that. My heart hurt for him, so I told him so.

Here is another musician playing along the waterfront in Cape Town. Check out his guitar.

This morning we visited Victoria Falls. The falls are about three times as large as Niagra Falls. Victoria Falls is considered one of the seven wonders of the world. They were absolutely amazing. We had to wear rain ponchos to keep us dry because of all of the mist from the falls. Hippos and croc's apparently like to live a little upstream from the falls but we didn't see any. Because the animals are wild here, they are free to roam wherever they like. However, some elephants and zebras used to get too close to the falls so they put up a wooden, makeshift fence to keep them out. Our tour guide told us that as a kid he used to see many elephants at the falls--which is very dangerous for the elephants.

Our tour guide was named Ntando and he is from here--Victoria Falls. He went to primary and secondary school here and then traveled to Bulawayo for his education in tourism. He said his professional education lasted three years. He was a very good tour guide and spoke about a major concern he and others in his country have--the fact that Americans won't purchase ivory. He said that elephants are so abundant in Zimbabwe and Botswana and surrounding areas that they are actually harming the environment. The elephants pull down the trees and drink up all of the water in the watering holes other animals depend on for survival. Animals cannot live in the trees and hide themselves from predators. There are over 150,000 elephants and thousands are being born every year. The people in the countries use the ivory from the elephants to make sculptures and other ornate souvenirs for visitors. The problem is that the visitors aren't buying the ivory because they think the elephants are being killed just for the ivory. Apparently there is another side to the coin I didn't realize existed. I still didn't buy any ivory, though. Here is a photo of Ntando (pronounced Dando).

We went for a sundown cruise on the Mighty Zambezi River tonight. We were picked up at our hotel and driven to the boat dock--which mainly consisted of a large pontoon boat tied up to a tree. We were greeted by native dancers/musicians. One of the dancers/musicians boarded our vessel and provided us with on board entertainment after the sunset. Before sunset, I spoke with him at length about his life. His name is Admire Mutinhima and he is the leader of the dancing group called Idwala Elikhulu Theater Production Services. He is from Harrare, the capitol of Zimbabwe. He went to school but never sat for his final exams, so he does not have his diploma. He created the entertainment troupe and began traveling, hoping to find success.

Admire Mutinhima:

Since Zimbabwe is virtually collapsing, he and the troupe needed to leave the capitol for more greener pastures so they traveled to Bulawayo--another large city in Zimbabwe. They found a little work there but nothing to really sustain and support them. A person they met there invited them to Victoria Falls--the tourist capitol of Zimbabwe. The group, Idwala Elikhulu, has been dancing for The Boma a famous local restaurant that tourists flock to for a taste of the local life. The Boma proved to be one of the highlights of the trip to Zimbabwe--although I wonder how much of it really was local and how much was produced for the American tourist--or any tourist, for that matter. There was dancing, bongos, and everyone was draped with a local cloth upon entry, local cuisine and just a jolly good time.

Mike and I met another couple, Debbie and Randy from Cincinnati, who were also staying at our hotel. Since we rode over together to The Boma for dinner we decided to share a table. Debbie worked for Delta and Randy was a high-school guidance counselor. They were both very nice and had just finished three safaris in Botswana. As we were talking and waiting for our appetizers (I mostly stuck with vegetarian-type meals) we heard Admire's voice. He was introducing his group and telling the fellow patrons about the dance they were about to perform. I could not understand his explanation, but I did get some short video clips of the group. Here are the videos:">>

I asked Admire if he has some sort of business card or a postcard advertising his group and he told me no, but he does have an email address. I found that kinda funny. Anyway, he gave me all of his information. He is looking to travel internationally and hopes that someone will want to sponsor him and his group. If you are interested, just let me know and I will give you his contact information.

There was also interaction. A different group of entertainers passed out bongo drums for each person and we were given instructions on how to play. It was a call and response form of music. So, here is a photo of us playing the bongos and also a short video of Mike, Debbie & Randy playing along. I know the video is a little dark--sorry. The Boma was dark--it's basically a hut with a thatched roof, and part of it is open to the outside.

I almost forgot, we saw some animals while on our sundown cruise. We came across some Hippos, a couple of elephants, some crocs, warthogs and several types of birds. Here are some photos from the cruise along with some of the animals:

Friday, July 13, 2007

Today we left Victoria Falls and arrived in Johannesburg. I'm glad we went to Victoria Falls, but I'm also glad we are gone. The hotel shuts off power for four hours each day. Today, the power was shut off a little after 8:00am. We were scheduled to leave the hotel at 11:30am; since I didn't wake up until 7:45am, that meant I didn't get to take a shower before we left. Mike took a very quick one--but guys can do that sort of shit. It also meant no internet before we left. So, we decided to walk over to the bridge and crossed into Zambia. As we walked, I took several photos of the locals and a few short video clips. Women and men both carried oranges and other things on their heads (can you imagine the strength in their necks?!). There were baboons roaming about freely. Once we reached the bridge, there were several Americans gathered around to bungi jump from the bridge. I caught a video of it. So, below are several photos and video clips from this morning.

This is the business center I used to get the internet:


Now we are in Johannesburg. We have internet in our room and it is such a luxury. I have tried to give you a taste of what my life has been life for the past week. We are going on safari tomorrow. There is supposed to be internet at the lodge but given the history so far, I don't want to depend on it. I'll try and blog again as soon as I can. Thanks so much for the messages several people have sent asking about my trip! Y'all are so sweet! It's late here so I'm going to close for now. I'll talk to y'all soon.

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