21 January 2011

An Old Long Since, and One Year to Go

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Over the last few weeks, I got to enjoy the company of some of my oldest acquaintances:  family.  Erica, her sister, and I went to Johannesburg to meet their dad and my mother and sister so we could enjoy our sub-Saharan holidays together.  Unfortunately, their dad's flight had a stop in London and was cancelled due to the "storm" that swept through Europe (note the North Dakotan scorn over the application of that word to two inches of snow), but we met up with their dad just a few days later, in time to drive through the beautiful Blyde River Canyon and to move on to Kruger National Park.
During our two days in Kruger, we successfully spotted the "big five" from the safety and comfort of our rental van:  lion, leopard, elephant, rhinocerous, and the unexpected fifth, the buffalo.  Other notable viewings included vultures, giraffes, dung beetles, hornbills (the Lion King bird), warthogs, baboons, and approximately 644 impalas (yes, I counted).  Once we'd had our fill of wildlife adventures, we drove to Komatipoort, where our families enjoyed a relaxing Christmas at a small B&B.
On the 26th, Mom, Anna, and I said goodbye to Erica's family and left for Mozambique.  Our bus incidentally left for Mozambique without picking us up, but one frantic phone call and one overpriced private ride later, we were ushered across the nearby border and onto our idling bus.  In my opinion, adventure-filled Africa wouldn't be the same if everything worked out just as it should.  The three of us spent a day shopping in Maputo and then took the 4 AM bus to Tofo, where we enjoyed two days of blue skies, white sand, and warm ocean water.  Our Ocean Safari was definitely action-packed; we swam with schools of brightly colored fish, we spotted dolphins, and Anna suffered a small head wound.  Here's the quick sum-up:  the story involves getting a "small" cut that later turned out to be not-so-small, getting a hurried ride to the soon-to-close-clinic in the neighboring city from an artist friend of mine, nearly running over pedestrians who "are afraid of rain, but not cars," banging on the clinic door when it closed one minute early, and getting excellent care from the gracious staff who stayed half an hour past closing to give Anna stitches.  This was how we spent our last evening in Tofo--again, I think life would be awfully drab without these unexpected adventures.
Up to this point, we had traveled by rental car in South Africa and had taken a nice charter bus from Maputo to Tofo. Unfortunately, these nice charter buses have limited routes, so to get back to Chibuto, Anna and Mom got to experience the delightful chapa, the minibus that is crammed to capacity and then half again. Chapas generally are filled with warm bodies, crying children, and oftentimes, chickens. We arrived back in Chibuto feeling slightly cramped but without incident and took a quick walk to my school with the dogs, meeting various friends and neighbors.
Since Chibuto is essentially a baking sandy oven without a beach, we took a day trip to Xai-xai the following morning. Aside from a brief wedding procession (a common occurrence on Xai-xai beach), the beach was quiet and largely unoccupied all morning. Although Xai-xai doesn’t have the fine, white sand of Tofo, it’s still a lovely beach, and the water is a bit cooler and more refreshing. We enjoyed lunch on the beach and went into town to buy capulanas and have a beer with a friend of mine, a colleague from school.
We returned to Chibuto for New Year’s Eve, and after having their fill of bucket baths, latrines, and unfortunately, cockroaches (their trip coincided with a sudden infestation during our absence), we took our last chapa to Maputo on New Year’s Day and stayed with Anna’s friend Erica and her family for a few days. We did a little more shopping, a little more wandering, and after a whirlwind trip, Mom and Anna were off again, this time not by chapa, but by plane, back home to the states. After making tracks around sub-Saharan Africa, it was time to head halfway across the world, homeward bound, as I will do in just 10 months’ time.

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