South Africa

Kalahari Desert

The Kalahari was wild and beautiful with its rust-red sands, yellow, white and purple wild flowers, and the barest of scrub brush. This is a typical example of the absolutely incredible colors in the Kalahari sunrise that we saw each morning. We stayed inside the boundaries of the park, in one of 30 cabins run by the Park Service. Our days were filled with independent game drives (us in RED Toyota rental car) through the dry river beds that bisect the park. Since most of the big game concentrate in these areas, so do most of the predators! This lioness was one of a pride of four that we saw early in the morning at a wildebeest kill. She sauntered past us along the road and plopped herself down about 5 feet from Patti's window.

In addition to the lions, we had a spectacular morning of game sighting including: a cheetah, a cape cobra (doing his cobra thing), snake eagles and lots of other cool predator birds, jackals waking up for the day, wild African cats, mongoose, ground squirrels, meerkats, ostrich, and oodles and oodles of boks - gemsbok, steenbok, and springbok - and wildebeests galore. Later in the day, we came across another couple in their own vehicle and they asked us if we had seen "anything." When we started to talk about the wildebeests and boks, they shook their heads in boredom since these magnificent animals were just too common! They did tell us about some giraffes they had seen up the road…..several kilometers later, we spotted this giraffe herd (with a lone gemsbok) at a watering hole.

After a brief mid-day nap (and a needed gas tank refill) at the Mata Mata camp, near the border with Namibia, we drove back to our base camp in time for our guided night drive. That was a pretty amazing experience - just 6 of us in the back of an open truck. We headed out just before sunset and went immediately to the lion pride that we had seen earlier in the day, where the lions were still taking turns eating and napping. After watching them for several minutes (we were close enough to hear the crunching bones), we went on to spot a variety of nocturnal creatures. Dean's favorite was the black Cape Owl and Patti really liked the scorpion and puff adder snake (NOT!). We also saw more jackals, bat-eared foxes, wild African cats, gemsbok right next to the road, and even a Cape Hare being chased by a jackal (with Dean moving the spotlight from one to the other).

As we left the park, we spent some time visiting the indigenous communities along the perimeter - mostly so Patti could take pictures for her class on development. We stopped at this roadside stand to buy some craft items from this San (NOT "bushman") man. We learned that the local San community, called the Meir community, has recently negotiated rights of use over a part of the Park. In the future, they will be able to do more than sit along the side of the road selling trinkets to tourists. They should be able to get access rights for gathering and hunting and will also be able to develop their own tourist ventures. For the time being, however, they live in conditions that closely resemble the corrugated iron shacks of the townships and shantytowns in urban areas.



Upington

In contrast to the red sand of the Kalahari, the town of Upington (where our local flight landed), located about 250 kilometers south of the park, is lush and green. It sits on the banks of the Orange River, one of the largest in South Africa. The river supplies water to vineyards, farms, and even things like our B&B, located along its banks. When you look from the air, the Kalahari is a sea of orange with a snaking green line through the middle of it which is the Orange. Despite the fact that it is irrigated, Upington is still incredibly HOT and we spent much of our time sitting by the river with a cool drink in our hand. We also managed to eat at the only gourmet restaurant in town - Le Must - where we enjoyed South African wines, local produce, and fabulous chocolate desserts! We spent a half day doing a driving tour of the Orange River area, where we saw dozens of fields with grapes becoming raisins in the desert sun. The smell was incredible - a mixture of wine, grapes, and raisins! The day ended with a short hike along Augrabies Falls, another national park to the west of Upington. We just managed to finish off the last of our biltong (dried meat - like jerky but better) on this last road trip in the Kalahari region.

Cape Town

After a short flight over the Kalahari, we arrived back in Cape Town for our last two days. Dean successfully navigated the many traffic circles and other obstacles in our left-side driving vehicle (complete with stick shift on the left) and we made it back to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, the very touristy port area where the ship was docked. We spent the morning running errands and chose a Greek place for lunch (where we were able to satisfy our craving for hummus) and headed out with our new shipboard friends, Ron and Lil Osgood, for Cape Point. It was Sunday afternoon and the beach drive down the Cape was crowded with surfers, sun worshipers, and even swimmers (the water was a balmy 18 degrees). We arrived at Boulder's Beach, home to a large Jackass Penguin colony, by mid-afternoon. The penguins were everywhere!!!!! They don't seem to mind the interactions with humans and choose to swim next to them, or even just walk up in curiosity. They were in the midst of molting and nesting season and we saw lots of cute couples (they are monogamous) taking turns on their nest. They are called Jackass Penguins because they bray like donkeys - we heard them throughout the night through the window of our B&B. The next morning, we did our best imitation of "ugly American tourists" with the timer on the digital camera. We call this "Ma and Pa Kettle visit the penguins."



Our final adventure was a whirlwind tour of Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, where the winds were at 90 knots and we all felt like we would be blown away at any minute. It was easy to see how and why this place was treacherous for ships! This is also a national park and we saw lots of baboons (including infants clinging to their mothers) along the side of the road. We wrapped up the afternoon with some shopping (Patti found Dr. Pepper!!!!) and a little bit of history in the area near the waterfront. Amazingly enough, we capped off our South Africa visit by having dinner with our good friend and fellow fellow, Mary Rowen! Although Mary lives in DC (in the Kennedy-Warren, Patti's old building no less), she happed to be in town on U.S.A.I.D. business. What an amazing life these AAAS Fellows lead. We had a great Cape Malay meal (with curry, babooti, and a variety of other cool stuff) and caught up on all the DC gossip.


Although we boarded the ship in the evening, we didn't actually leave Cape Town until almost 5 a.m., due to high winds. We had spectacular views of Table Mountain (the one in Cape Town) and the whole Cape Coast on our way east. We passed the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point at about 7:00 am and got some spectacular shots of the sunrise. Later in the day, in the middle of classes, they made an announcement that we were passing the southern most point of our whole journey, Point Agulhas…..closer to the South Pole than we'll be at any other time this semester.


SHIPBOARD LIFE

There really isn't so much to report this time. The section between Brazil and South Africa was 9 days but it flew by (unlike the Cuba to Brazil portion). Patti was relieved to only be teaching her three classes (instead of also doing what seemed like every other day in the "core" class for all 630 students) while Dean started to really get in a groove with his class. We briefly attended the student's valentines day dance (where we realized that we were WAY out of touch); enjoyed our turn at the "Captain's Dinner; " laughed hysterically at the faculty/staff party at which others were singing karaoke; and seemed to spent a lot of time grading papers and preparing for classes. There was only one non-class day (TBA day) and Patti spent most of it sleeping!

I guess the other thing to report is how disconnected we feel from our lives back home. Of course, we miss everyone and we miss certain things about our life (namely our kitties and Dean's cooking), but it is as if we are existing here in a parallel universe. Unlike when we travel on our own, we have an instant community here. We have new good friends, inside jokes, and some people that we avoid! We have little patterns that we follow - and try to spice things up by going to different cafeterias (there are 2) for different meals. There are far too many options of things to do in the evenings - SET in the adult lounge, attending "community college"" - a nightly program, dance classes, food club, movies, and on and on and on. Mostly, we seem to work most evenings (preparing classes) and socialize with people during meals. Finally, we don't have good access to news from home (or anywhere else) and it feels a bit like we are in a vacuum. We did find a Time magazine in Cape Town - and we're glad to see that the Winter Olympics were full of scandal!

We really appreciate all the emails and updates from back home. Please keep those coming. We probably won't be able to respond individually to most of them (since there is always a long line on the ship and the internet services cost 50 cents per minute) but they REALLY do mean a lot to us. So thanks!!!

Our next stop (in 6 short days) is Mauritius, where the students are looking forward to Spring Break. After that, the trip really accelerates and we have almost no time on the ship in-between ports.

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