Saturday, February 21, 2009

Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up......

Captivating Enchanting Thrilling Lovely Gripping Breath-Taking

I clicked on the word “magic” to look for synonyms and that’s what came up. And each of these words pretty much sums up South Africa. As I traverse the globe, I find magic with every new step. Laughter at every turn. Beauty in every deep purple sunset. Friendship in every stranger’s smile.

I spent three days in a wild game reserve called Kagga Kamma Lodge. (Forever the sorority girl, at first I couldn’t stop calling it Kappa Kappa Gamma.)

Words cannot do it justice. There were rock formations that reminded me of the album cover for Led Zeppelin “Houses of the Holy”, especially at sunset. I clearly dated myself, as my 20 year old students had never seen that album cover……I thought Zeppelin was timeless?

THIS, my friends is what Semester at Sea is all about. This trip epitomized the program and all the natural wonders that exist in our world. I spent two evenings star-gazing in the Southern Hemisphere. We saw the rings around Saturn. We saw the Southern Cross. Orion’s Belt. The Milky Way. You name it. The best way to describe the sky would be this: taking a huge black blanket, punching 1 million holes in it and shining a neon light through the holes. The African sky was simply illuminated with stars, three of which were shooting, therefore I made three wishes. (As if I could wish for anything more than this wonderful journey…) I have never seen so many stars in my life. It was like a clear night in the US on steroids. We clearly saw the Milky Way, as well as two other galaxies, which reminded me that my voyage around the Earth is just barely scratching the surface. As cliché’ as it may sound, the Universe is vast, wide, and astounding.

We went on two “sundowners” and one morning game drive.
We saw ostrich, which are enormous; blue wildabeast; bontebuk, zebra, and eland. Some of these animals don’t evem exist in the US. On the “sundowners” you drive for about an hour in these safari vehicles, which are large jeeps with a tent covering the top, to view wild game and then you drink a beer and watch the sun set behind the Cedarberg Mountains. Talk about breathtaking…..

I took this shot, around 7:30 AM today from the safari vehicle. These creatures were so regal and magical and they were at a mere 50 feet from our vehicle:
And these would be the Blue Wildebeast, which are native to Africa. I've never seen anything like them!
And here is a video of some ostrich (home-viewers, go to the actual blog website to view):

Thousands of years ago Kalahari Bushmen inhabited these mountains. And to this day their paintings still exist on the unusual rock formations. Part of this trip was a hike through the rocks to view these paintings. Ummm…but they forgot to mention: NOT A BEGINNER’S HIKE. We had to climb huge rocks. They looked like this. I thought I might die.

Remember how I compared this to "Houses of the Holy"? Well, I felt not dissimilar from the naked blonde girls on the Zeppelin album above. Except brunette. And not naked......but I might as well have been. There were prickly brambles and my legs were completely scraped up. At one point I felt something weird on my arm, and I looked down and saw a big scratch on my upper arm being sucked by three mosquitoes. Fantastic.

Did I need to take my malaria pills here?

Our hiking guide (who actually worked at the lodge) got lost on the hike, because the path was so overgrown and we ended up in the middle of nowhere without a living soul around. When I used to waitress in college, when we got in over our heads, we called it “in the weeds”. I think we were very much “in the weeds” here. There were huge prickly plants we had to tramp through to get anywhere. The rocks were so steep and one student fell down and had to have stitches on his knee. He had a great attitude, and I was very happy to have such fabulous students to assist.
Here is a video of where we were (note: I could not film as we were actually hiking....I was trying to hang on for dear life during that time):

One student was an EMT and she basically took over. The kid's knee was basically gushing blood for the hike, and only one student had a small band-aid and a small bit of gauze. When we finally found our way back on “the path of least resistance” two hours later, he was transported to the nearest hospital which was two hours away. The Massage Therapist drove him there, so my massage was cancelled, but I was completely cool with that, because I spent the rest of the afternoon at the pool, a cool and refreshing retreat after hiking through the African sun all morning.

Our accommodations were rustic, yet luxurious- a strange conundrum. I stayed in a little round, thatched-roof shack with this big plush bed, air conditioning and South African tea. There it is above. It was like a regular hotel room, except the other morning I was reminded that I was in the bush when I was greeted by this guy:

In the evening it is quite dark and there is not another living soul around. They turn off all the lights at the lodge so everyone can star-gaze. Grandma- you would be so proud- I brought a flashlight! My grandma always gives us flashlights for Christmas and she always has them sitting all around her house. In college, in grad school, and when I moved to NYC years ago she always made sure I packed a flashlight to have for each new apartment. She taught me well, because I had no problem finding my way back to my hut.

At night we sat around a campfire and played a game called “Mafia”. It involves strategy and reading people’s non-verbal cues. You are on a team, only you don’t know who is on your team and who isn’t. I may write more on this game later. It is such a fun and unique way to get to know people, and I feel like I really got to know the 21 students on the trip much better. Even our tour guide Dave played with us. We had dinner of oryx around this fire before-hand. (Oryx is a type of venison and it is delicious).

Earlier today, on the way back to the ship we visited a winery which is also a cheetah farm. I bought a wonderful South African wine for a mere 250 RAND, which is like $2.50 US. I love South Africa. Where else would there be $2.50 bottles of wine and cheetahs? The cheetahs are domesticated and you can stroke them.

The bus driver also had to brake a few times for baboons crossing the street. Did I tell you how much I love South Africa?

Our bus driver Younes and our tour guide Dave (not to be confused with Tracey, the one who got us lost on the hike) were remarkable. We blew kisses goodbye and I was sad to part ways with them. Younes told me his day off is tomorrow and he offered to show me around Capetown and I’ve not yet decided whether to meet up with him or not.

Now I’m back at the ship and we’ve got one more day in Capetown. I am going to sleep soon, as I’ve got a lot to squeeze in while visiting this extraordinary city tomorrow for one last day. Capetown is very westernized. Everyone speaks English (as well as a language called Afrikaans, which is a combination of German, Dutch, and Danish….some of it sounds like English too, for example the “information packet” at the lodge was called “Inlightingspackket”). There is so much to do here in Capetown. Here is a video of the day we arrived:

Basically I've barely scratched the surface. There is Robben Island- which is where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner. Tours are given by former inmates. You take a boat to get there and penguins live on the island. Kind of the African version of Alcatraz. Then there is Table Mountain, which has a tram to get you to the top. Or you can hike (which I will NOT be doing after my earlier adventure!) So much to do, so little time…..And after my trip to the bush, at the risk of one too many puns, I’m bushed……

My Uncle Jeff emailed me this once a long time ago and I found it apropos:
Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up and knows that it will have to outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. And, every morning in Africa a lion wakes up and knows that it will have to outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. So, in Africa, it doesn't matter if you are the lion or the gazelle. When that sun comes up, you had better be running.

(Except for the hike.)


Dara said...

I can't believe you climbed all those rocks...I'm so proud of you!
And, when you get back, can we get a domesticated cheetah? I think Kitty would get along really well with one. C''d be so cute!!!!!

Alena said...

Led Zeppelin is timeless, but this generation buys Houses of the Holy off iTunes and never sees the album cover!