Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Like All Great Travelers..."

...I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen."
                                                                          - Benjamin Disraeli

I’m writing this post from the USA!  I got back on Thursday, 14 June and moved right up to Saint Mike’s on Sunday, 17 June!  It feels weird to be back, but I love summer in Burlington!  It’s so beautiful, and being in slow, friendly Vermont has been making my transition back from abroad easier than if I were in New York. 
I wanted to put up a post about my end of semester travels before I left South Africa, but our internet was shut off the day after I got back, and then I had some computer issues, so here’s my super long post now!  It's long enough without pictures, but if you'd like to check them out feel free to look at my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/samantha.giglio.10!
From the first of June until the 11th, I traveled with my roommates Hallie, Shana, and Brooke, and our friend Emily!  The plan was to go from Cape Town to Bulungula Lodge on the Wild Coast, then up to Lesotho via Tele Bridge, then out of Lesotho through Quacha’s Nek and over to Durban, from where we would fly back home to the Western Cape.  We were going to spend three nights in each place – Bulungula, Mount Moorosi in Lesotho, and Durban.  Like all great adventures, this didn’t go quite as planned (this is especially a guarantee when taking all public transport like we did).  And as one of my favorite sayings goes, the journey is the destination!

On Friday afternoon we got a ride from our friend Peter to the Stellenbosch train station, where we took the train to Cape Town.  After filling up on some killer Indian food at the Middle Eastern Bazaar, we got on a bus and rode 15 hours through the night to Umtata.  Umtata was INSANE.  There were so many people everywhere, and it isn’t somewhere tourists normally go, so we stuck out like sore thumbs with our huge backpacks and confused looks.  The woman Brooke was sitting next to on the bus helped us out, and soon we were on a minibus taxi headed towards Elliotdale.  I really wish that we had taken pictures of every person that helped us on this trip – there were so many and each one seemed like an angel.  When we got to Elliotdale about three hours later, we argued with some drivers for a bit before we found someone willing to take us to Bulungula for relatively cheap.  Soon we were in the back of Trevor’s bakkie, sitting on some 2x4s nailed to the sides of the bed.  After a couple hours of driving, we got out at a beautiful beach and Trevor told us he’d go get the boat, which turned out to be a tiny rowboat.
First all of our stuff had to go across, then Brooke and Emily, then Hallie and me, then finally Shana.  The seat Trevor was sitting on broke as we were rowing across; he hit the floor of the boat then laughed and said, “Too much fat!” while I gripped the sides and silently prayed that the whole boat wouldn’t fall apart and leave me soaking in this unknown bay with my precious camera.  Trevor also took off his pants for this whole endeavor, so we were happy to see him packing them up on the last trip across the bay.  We still couldn’t see the lodge, or really any buildings or people, so we’d been hoping he’d walk us where we had to go.  He walked us the whole hour and a half that it took to get to Bulungula Lodge, and even carried a few things.  At this point we had been traveling for over 24 hours, and so the sight of the lodge would have had us jumping for joy had we any energy left, which we didn’t.  The traveling was completely worth it though, since Bulungula was INCREDIBLE.  It is easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and I’ve seen some pretty amazing places during my time in South Africa.  It’s in what used to be one of the most remote villages in South Africa, and there is now a community engagement project going on.  This was fascinating to see after my semester in LSCE (Learning for Sustainable Community Engagement), and if you’re interested you can read more about it here: http://bulungulaincubator.wordpress.com/.  They’re doing a great job using sustainable practices and the community’s strengths to make change.  We did a village tour and also “Women Power” where we spent the day with women doing what they normally do – collecting water and carrying it on our heads, collecting sticks and carrying those bundles on our heads, grinding corn, peeling pumpkin, and having lunch together.  We walked with a bunch of kids who were on their way to an afterschool program – they were wearing TOMS!  It was so cool to see my favorite footwear actually benefitting children.  I’ll be sure to support that company for a long time.  When I pointed to one little girl’s shoes, she said “TOMS!!” and pointed at me with her head cocked to the side.  I was happy to nod yes, that I did in fact have them too.  It’s always a surreal experience to find similarities like this when you’re far from home.  My favorite part of Bulungula was one night while we were sitting around the fire with some locals.  They offered to teach us how to drum, so we all picked up drums and we really weren’t too bad.  Then someone started singing Shosholoza – a sort of unofficial South African anthem.  Shana ended up leading the song, with all of us around the fire joining in, singing and drumming.  This went on a long time, until we closed the song, everyone happy and laughing.  To me, it was symbolic of an unspoken connection between the locals and us foreigners that love their country with our whole hearts.  Here’s a beautiful version of the song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saJmOw0GGyI.  A bit later, one of the girls that work at the lodge came out with crayfish for everyone.  So lekker, enjoying crayfish around a fire by the beach with friends, attempting to speak in a language that has clicks, and discovering an unknown talent for drumming.  What could be better?  We ended up staying four nights at Bulungula, which honestly wasn’t even enough.  I could stay there for a month and still find new things to do!
Next we went to Lesotho, the mountainous kingdom completely surrounded by South Africa.  We had a 12 hour day of traveling similar to the one to get to Bulungula (no boats this time), and we walked across the border of SA into Lesotho that night, much to the surprise of the border control.  We had a ride waiting for us on the other side of the border, although we had to get out of the car and walk at certain points when we were too heavy for the car to climb up the mountains.  We finally got to Mount Moorosi Chalets a couple hours later, and there was a traditional meal waiting for us.  I don’t think any of us will forget it, it was so delicious and necessary.  There was mealie pap, chicken and potatoes, pumpkin, homemade steamed bread, and two kinds of leafy veggies, with sour porridge for dessert.  So simple, but so great.  Our days in Lesotho were mostly spent roaming around, not doing much since we were in such a remote place.  We went to bed at like 8:30 every night because there was no electricity, and we didn’t shower much because there was no indoor plumbing and it was so cold.  Lesotho is known for its pony trekking, since the most reliable mode of transportation around the steep mountain passes are ponies.  We took part in this, and rode ponies through the mountains of Lesotho in a snow storm. SO COOL.  We were not able to leave Lesotho out of the border crossing we intended because of the snow, so we had to make a new plan.  After staring at our trusty map barely illuminated by the dim light of our gas lamp, we decided on a new route.  When we got to the border bright and early the next morning, a police officer took pity on us and drove us in his personal car to the town to catch a minibus to our next stop on our way to Durban.  He organized our transport with a guy that didn’t speak English and decided it would be best for us to go to Bloemfontein first.  We hopped into the car, much more comfortable than what we were used to on this trip, and got to the Bloemfontein bus station.  Since the guy didn’t speak English, we couldn’t tell him that that’s not where we wanted to go.  So we headed in there and found a man that knew another man with a car that could fit all of us to drive us to the taxi rank.  He didn’t even charge us, and soon we were on a minibus to a place called Qwaqwa.  We realized on this drive that we weren’t going to get to Durban that night, and that we needed to find a place to stay.  We asked a girl about our age on the minibus if there was a hostel in Qwaqwa, but she told us to stay with her and get on another bus to Harrismith, as there was an inn there.  Her name meant Lucky in English, and she truly brought us luck.  I don’t know what we have done without her, as we waited in the dark by a series of shacks for the bus to come.  We were warned by another waiting person to stay away from the farther shacks, as that’s “where the criminals go.”  He also asked us if we wanted to go off with a nearby Rasta, to which Brooke politely replied “Oh, no thank you.” 
Finally, the bus came, and we got on. It continued to fill up as more and more people got on, and no one really got off.  It was insanely rowdy.  There were very few women on the bus, even fewer young women, and almost all the men were drunk and still drinking more.  They were very interested in us, clearly not being locals, and Emily was dodging questions from about 6 men at once.  We heard a weird sound and saw a flash of blue, and I got chills.  I was sitting next to Brooke, and she whispered, “Was that a taser?”  A few minutes later we got our answer, as the man in the seat ahead of me was laughing and pointing the taser directly at me.  I tried to keep my cool, but I reallyyy didn’t want to get tased, especially not from less than a foot away!  It was the scariest 25 minutes of my life until he finally got off the bus.  At one point there was another drunk man with a pot belly raving to me about the controversial Julius Malema, but I didn’t even mind because his large body was serving as a useful shield.
We finally got to Harrismith, and Lucky walked us over to the Harrismith Inn, which was probably the status of a Holiday Inn but seemed to us like the finest Four Seasons.  After our time in Lesotho, with no electricity, indoor plumbing, or heat, it felt so good to lie in our fluffy white beds with our fluffy white comforters after taking hot showers.  We even went to Spur (a chain comparable to TGI Fridays, with an American Indian theme?) for dinner, which was a relief after our failed attempts at making our own mealie pap in Lesotho.  The next day we were up bright and early to catch a mini bus to Durban, and we FINALLY got there on the 10th, one day before we had to leave and two days later than planned. 
 Durban was a blast.  We spent the day browsing beachside markets and indulging in Indian food, as Durban has the largest Indian population outside of India.  That night we were just hanging out in the lounge at Banana Backpackers where we were staying, and before we knew it we were having a full blown dance party with the workers and other guests, including one guy who claimed to be a wizard.  If you ever find yourself in Durban, stay at Banana’s.  We were bummed that we were only there for one night because it was such an amazing time!
I’ve been back in the USA for about a month, and while I’ve been having a great summer living in Vermont and doing psychology research at Saint Mike’s, I miss South Africa a lot.  I’ll always remember the time I spent there, and I hope to return in the near future.  I learned so much about myself, my passions, and the beautiful country of South Africa, and I feel completely blessed to have had this experience.
Totsiens vir nou, Suid-Afrika!

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