Before I continue, I just re-read some of my older entries and am shocked – SHOCKED, I tell ya – at all of the misspellings (tale instead of tail?... jeez...) and...err, "creative" sentence construction… yet I refuse to spend the money to fix it. I mention this only to let you know that I know that you know. That’s all.
Ok, where were we? Sitting next to the pool overlooking the Indian Ocean a skip away from Madagascar. But that’s not important right now.
We find ourselves in South Africa sans Sara. I’ve enjoyed a near all-nighter with the students and wake up a couple hours later looking for something to do. There wasn’t a shortage of ideas – I’d been talking to Sara all week about doing something extreme, as South Africa is apparently an adrenaline junkie’s paradise (which means I’m right at home). Most students went Great White Shark diving, skydiving, extreme bungee jumping, handgliding, paragliding or abseiling (repelling) down Table Mountain. The shark dives have too many people and lost their luster over the years; I’m a certified skydiver but am not current, so I didn’t spend time getting current; bungee jumping was an eight our drive away. My choices clearly were handgliding or abseiling. I left my cabin and set out to do one of these.
Instead, on my wait out I found a couple of students, who with the help of a Stanford student, Emmanuel, befriended a 24-year-old taxi driver who lived in one of the Coloured townships (the story of Emmanuel might get its own entry in the future), and the taxi had agreed to take them to his house.
I had wanted to visit the townships for a while, and SAS or local companies organize tours of the slums, but Sara and I had discussed this at some point and decided that it was voyeuristic and didn’t seem quite right to show up en masse with cameras flaring at the poverty. But the opportunity to go to this guy’s place seemed a little more personal, and after thinking about it for a bit, I asked if them if I could join them.
The first thing Lloyd, the taxi driver did before taking us to the black townships, where most of the commercial township tourism occurs. We did a little bit of everything, learning about the township organization and government, tasting local brew, and running into a large bus full township tourists, which seemed uncomfortable because of the endless clicking of the cameras but otherwise was much more respectful than I thought it would be. We stopped by a local medicine man, who had all sorts of healing trinkets hanging from store and wanted to talk to us about purchasing love potions (which several of the students bought). But after a while I had to be Debbie Downer and drop the AIDS question, but given the cultural significance of healers in South African society, and the fact that they are officially recognized by the government, certainly the community must look to him when their sick.
Sure enough, it sounded like he’d assume some sort of leadership position in this issue, telling us how he estimated the was losing four clients a month to the disease, but that he mostly took the role of alleviating pain but left the true treatment of the disease to doctors. He also worked as an educator, and hanging between snake heads and lizard skins and pigs feet were condoms. It was refreshing to see.
We moved on to the Coloured townships, where Lloyd lived. We asked about the safety of the small group and he assured us we were fine since everybody knew who he was. He seemed somewhat bitter that the black townships got all the tourism (“we have the same problems that they have”) and that the coloured township went unnoticed. I’m sure there is some truth to that – we saw no tourist but still saw children swimming in sewers and even a covered body that had just been run over – some fellow trying to cross the highway that bisects the township. The highlight was the illegal rasta bar that he frequented, where they make a bong by cupping a broken beer bottle and smoking through their hands. It was an impressive, impressive sight. People were coming in and out to purchase their marijuana the entire time we were there, and sadly, most of the people in the joint were children.
Finally, another taxi driver that had accompanied us took us to his mosque, and it occured to me that I’ve never been to a mosque before. The elders there were completely surprised and excited to see these students show up out of nowhere and gave us a full tour that lasted quite a while. We were there as one of the prayers had finished, and it seems to me like a mosque, with their large, quiet, carpeted rooms, can be an awesome place to just get away from it all We spent the rest of the early afternoon there before heading back to the waterfront for a huge-yet-very cheap sushi dinner (a warm up for our sushioke day in Japan! Yeah!)
The weather wasn’t the greatest, so being the sucker for aquariums that I am I convinced Jason that it was it was the place to go before 17 of the staff members went out for yet another big-game meal (springbok… yum…) and lots of bonding, as relayed in Jason’s guest blog entry. We didn’t get home until 4:30am. I think. Yet I managed to wake up early yet again.
I looked up table mountain that morning, and it was clear! I decided I was going to go up there by myself, by foot, from the ship all the way up to the top. I set out through some of the sketchiest places in Cape Town and took a complete walking tour of the city (including a long stop at the Jewish Museum and their exhibit on Helen Sussman as recommended by Sara. South Africa has some incredible leaders) and several hours later I was at the base of the mountain… where it was cloudy once again. Abseiling wasn’t happening. I headed back to the ship, ran into a bunch of girls who had attended services in Desmond Tutu’s church and shared a cab with them back to the waterfront.
(Allow me to interrupt this entry to let you knowf that I’m witnessing yet another phenomenal sunset right now. Everyone, as usual is trickling out the deck to see it.)
I’ve made time for gift shopping in every country we’ve been in, and even though Transvideo has sharpened my negotiating skills, they’ve done nothing about my taste in cheap trinkets. I have no clue what to buy. Do I get something practical? Who would ever wear that shirt? Masks are cool, right? Can I have one with a tribal pattern?
(Seriously. This might be the best sunset yet.)
(Ok. Sun is down. I can continue.)
I overshot my budget yet again - I kept miscalculating how much money to withdraw and always was out of cash… sorry, Sara - but managed to purchase some quality merchandise, just in time for the weather to clear at Table Mountain and for a group of us to make our way to Table Mountain where the weather was beautiful. We just sat there long enough to still get dinner before making it back on the ship.
I never went abseiling. But it was the perfect ending to the perfect trip.
I don’t know. Maybe I get overexcited about little things sometimes - at home or halfway around the globe. I’m trying really hard not to sound rah-rah-rah and “awesome this”, or “phenomenal that” and use the same descriptions in every entry. I’m try not to sound like a broken record, but I can’t help it. I think what idiots the three kids who got kicked off the ship in Cape Town are for losing this opportunity (including one more my four work-study students). We just hit the one-third-way mark of the voyage and it’s going by way too fast. I know I’m missing a ton of stuff at home, (the ONLY downside of the voyage), but I wish instead that you all got to see what you’re missing instead. If you’re reading this and you have the means, come join me. Seriously.
Because life is pretty good around here.
Editor’s note: Becky Chaplin – your mom is next to me and she asks me to tell you to email her.