Saturday, April 21, 2007

School Holiday Part 2: The Wild Coast

One of the best parts about teaching in South Africa is the school calendar, which wisely sets up 3-week breaks every 11 weeks. While we go to school year-round, we are almost always “coming up on a vacation.”

That is why we were able to take 2 vacations during this school holiday, first to Botswana and then to South Africa’s Wild Coast, a beautiful stretch of coastline that is left as exactly that. No highways, no high-rise hotels, no jet-skis.

In two days we drove from Pandamatenga, Botswana to Pretoria, South Africa, to Port Edward, on the southern coast of South Africa, a total of 22 hours of driving. The next day we left on a 6-day tour of the Wild Coast, which took us to the most beautiful and empty beaches that we have ever seen.

To get to the place that we were staying we had to hike 27 kilometers, much of it on the beach, with several stops for jumping off of cliffs into the water. Our guide, Albert, loved to find good jumping spots as much as we do and treated us to some very special jumps, including one into a waterfall that flowed into the ocean. The hike took us to several shipwreck sites, where the mangled boats have been washed onto the beach from areas that are called the “Shipwreck Coast.”

We spent 6 days at the different camps on the Wild Coast, hiking, canoeing, and swimming. The main camp that we stayed at was situated at the mouth of a river, so we could float down the river into the ocean. For a few of the nights we were the only ones at the camp, so we taught Albert to play “Down to One,” the Mahady family’s favorite card game.

We were also guided through Xhosa (pronounced “Click”-osa) Pondo villages, where people live in white rondavals, the round houses in the photos. One of the rondavals had been outfitted with a small solar panel, the only electricity for many miles. As we walked through the villages people would wave to us and tell Albert about upcoming events.

It was this way that we were invited to a Coming-of-Age Ceremony for the nearby Pondo girls. We hiked 7 kilometers from the camp to a small village where the ceremony was being held. The ceremony was for all of the girls from the community who had recently started menstruating from ages 11-14. After the ceremony they are now considered eligible for marriage. There was lots of singing, dancing, and meat; 2 cows and 4 sheep had been slaughtered for the ceremony. The ceremony included the community’s men chasing the girls with sticks and giving each one a good-natured rap on the backside.

School Holiday Part 1: Botswana!

When we first came to South Africa, Dieter and Lucy Hoffman told us about their friend Wimpy Voss who has a farm in Botswana. We planned a trip to visit for the March school holiday, and were looking forward to a vacation and what Dieter described as “stopping for the first 100 elephants, after that you’ll get bored with elephants.”

Dieter and Lucy set up a very comfortable makeshift bed in the back of Dieter’s truck, with their futon and lots of pillows. The whole trip, from their home in Pretoria to Pandamatanga, on the border of Zimbabwe, took just over 12 hours, on good highways in South Africa and then on incredibly potholed roads in Botswana, where Dieter had to dodge donkeys, cows, and spitting cobras.

Botswana was one of very few countries in Africa that was spared a civil war as it transitioned to majority rule. The result is that it is a very peaceful and safe country, in sharp contrast to its close neighbor, Zimbabwe, in which a civil war is beginning (again). Lucy, Andy, Dieter, and I were all surprised to find ourselves surprised that we didn’t see one white person from the time we crossed the border into Botswana until we arrived at the Voss house. Botswana felt and looked much more like “Africa” to us (more, we all agreed, than did South Africa) in a very nice way, with flat land and friendly people and the occasional elephant or giraffe on the highway.

Wimpy runs a huge farm far north in Botswana, in the area where nearly all of Botswana’s produce is grown, near the borders of Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Namibia. His farm is gorgeous, full of sunflowers and sorghum, and his land hosts 1000-year-old baobab trees. He’s currently planning to build a new home in the area where Andy and I are standing (if you can spot us – we’re tiny and the tree is huge).

Lucy and Andy tested their climbing skills on the ancient trees.

One of the days we drove an hour north of Pandamatanga to the Chobe National Park for a game drive in the park and a boat cruise on the Chobe River. Andy and I hadn’t seen any of Southern Africa’s famous animals in our 3 months here and were blown away by the different species of antelope (the one in the photo is an impala) and the number of elephants and giraffes that we saw.

Our guide would stop the jeep or the boat for us to take pictures and to watch the animals, which is great fun. We saw two elephants fighting in the river and a massive rumble between rival baboon gangs. The baby elephants were priceless.

We were very sad to leave Botswana and the Voss family, who were incredibly welcoming to us and made our stay in Botswana a wonderful experience. While Lucy and Dieter had to go back to work, we were very lucky to have another week of vacation ahead of us at the beach.

Tshegofatso's Birthday

Just following the closing of Refeng-Thabo for the end of first quarter, we were lucky to share in the celebration of Tshegofatso (Say-ho-fat-so) Motale’s first birthday party. The family that lives in the main house (we’re in the guest house) has four kids, Lerato (17), Kagiso (12), Reatlhele (4), and Tshegofatso (1). It worked out perfectly that the party was set for the day before we were to leave for vacation.

In Sotho and Zulu culture a child’s first birthday is the biggest birthday celebration of his or her life. It is also the first time that the child eats meat, which is fed to him or her by his or her grandparents. The meat itself is that of a sheep that is slaughtered the day before the party (in this case it was slaughtered in our backyard) and every part of the sheep is used. The night before the party the men (including Andy) gathered to eat the tripe (I call it “insides”) and the head of the sheep was to be cooked the Monday after the party (we missed that because we were on vacation).

We happened to be out when the sheep was actually slaughtered, which was a big disappointment to the family (the word “vegetarian” doesn’t translate into Sesotho or Zulu). It was made up to us by leaving the sheep’s head in our house throughout the party. If you look closely, you can see that the women are working on the sheep’s head in one of the pictures.

The kids were at the party by 1pm and mostly cleared out after dark, when the jumping castle was finally deflated. The adults, especially Tshegofatso’s grandparents, kept the party going long after the guest of honor was put to bed (see the photo of Andy with Grandpa Motale…)

Little Tshegofatso wore his birthday hat (knitted by Kate) straight through the party.