21 January 2011

[more visual aids]

Captions, in no particular order:  Erica and her family at Blyde River Canyon, hippo-spotting in Kruger, the Overbos, a snacking giraffe, me and Anna in a tuk-tuk in Maputo, Tofo beach, Mom looking pensive at Xai-xai beach, Anna and me bartering in Tofo, Erica and her dad at the Cape, the Cape of Good Hope, Erica and our friend, the scenic drive to the Cape, one of the vineyards.  In short, scenic sub-Saharan Africa with friends and family.

Vacay, Part Deux

With another two weeks ahead of me before classes would start, of course I couldn’t just go back to Chibuto after my family left. What a colossal waste of a perfectly good travel opportunity that would be! So I booked a spot on an overnight bus to Joburg and a cheap airplane ticket to Cape Town, where I would meet Erica and her dad. I met a kind young couple along the way who recommended a neat hostel in Cape Town and, after swapping contact info, pointed me in the right direction. I had a day to get acquainted with our snazzy hostel and most importantly, its pool, as the day I arrived was Cape Town’s hottest summer day yet. Once the hottest part of the afternoon had passed, I wandered in and out of shops on Cape Town’s bustling Long Street, window-shopping, buying things I hadn’t intended to buy, spending money I hadn’t intended to spend, and generally having a good time. I even found a funky hipster restaurant to have a gourmet veggie burger—imagine that! Oh, the delights of the sparkly, shiny developed world. Back at the hostel, I met fellow travelers and was reunited with Erica and her dad later that evening.
The next day, we took off for the Cape of Good Hope with a new friend from the hostel. Along the way, we stopped to see penguins at the aptly named Penguin Beach and drove past baboons in the road (no namesake beach). It was a gorgeous drive, taking us past bluffs, the Indian Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, ostriches, and yet more baboons. Since Erica’s dad was suffering from back pain, we three youngsters went out the next morning to hike up Table Mountain. For being a tourist attraction, I have to say, it was a pretty strenuous hike; although being from the Great Plains, I suppose I have a natural tendency toward laziness when it comes to hills and mountains and various slopes. Erica and I forgot to stretch out and felt that hike for days to come, but it was well worth it, and we even rewarded ourselves with slushies at the end of it all. We spent the afternoon recuperating by the pool, eating tropical fruits: mangos, bananas, grapes, papaya, grenadilla, and prickly pear. Later that evening, we went out to eat at a restaurant where the three meat-eaters of our party of four tried ostrich steak, crocodile, and warthog ribs (delicious). Day 2 in Cape Town, summed up: broke a sweat, ate like a king, slept like a log. I love vacation, and oh, do I love the developed world.
Since we had to eventually drive the rental car back to Joburg, we were crunched for time, so the next day, we left Cape Town to spend a day in the surrounding Winelands. We tasted wine at three vineyards and had a gourmet picnic by the river. We arrived at the last vineyard too late for Erica and I to take its rowboats onto the nearby pond, but considering the low alcohol tolerance we exhibited, it was probably for the best. Skipping stones was much less risky activity. That evening, we barbecued at the hostel, enjoyed the wine we’d bought, passed around the hostel guitar, and shared stories. And I tried my very best not to think of the imminent end of our time in South Africa and the upcoming school year, ever-looming closer. I was more-or-less successful.
We said goodbye to our friend the next day and began our two-day road trip back to Joburg. In Joburg, we took advantage of the last luxuries the developed world could offer us: fun restaurants, shopping malls, movie theaters, coffee, laundry, television, and internet. Sigh. We said goodbye to Erica’s dad, and later that evening, said goodbye to South Africa. So many goodbyes, but what naturally follows every goodbye is a hello—Hello Mozambique!
Now we’re back home, starting the new school year. Of course, the schedules for my school weren’t ready on time, so I’ll start teaching next week. As much as I’ve been dreading going back to work, part of me is excited to start a fresh school year. I start this year knowing more about the culture of my school, knowing my colleagues and students better, knowing more about how to be an effective teacher, and knowing more Portuguese. While I now lack the excitement of the unknown that I experienced at this time last year, it will be a pleasure to work feeling more confident about how things work and how I fit into that system.  I may be a cog in the system, but I'm an American cog, and it's good to know maybe not exactly what that entails, but what I can do with it.

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.