Tuesday, January 8, 2008

How I spent my summer vacation

Pretty, isn't it?

Before I forget, I'd like to thank my fellow PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) for their unwitting contribution of pictures. I really appreciate it. Most of these pictures are theirs, but since I'm in them, I was there too. Ms. Sawyer, Ms. Hochman, Mr. Shpeen, Ms. Gaul, and Mr. Kumar... thank you, and yes, I do know your first names, but I'm sure Peace Corps prefers that I don't put those.

Summer vacation began with running two different summer camps, one at a neighboring school an hour and twenty minutes walk away. Fortunately, I had a working bike then. Key words in the last sentence are 'had' and 'working'.
I might be lying on the 'working' because during the days I went to that camp: the pedals broke, handlebars fell off, and on the last day of camp, on the way home, the tire exploded. To look on the bright side, I've learned a lot about bike repair. But back to the camps, they were kind of test runs of organizing children's events, advertising, expected turn-out etc. The camps were essentially sports camps, though we did read or sing/teach the children everyday as well. They learned a host of new games such as 'Duck, Duck, Goose' and 'Capture the Flag'.
The chorus of 'Oh My Darling Clementine' was definitely a hit as well, to the consternation of my fellow volunteers, who had come to help out with the camp. Many thanks to them, as their help was incredible and the cuisine improved while they were here.

After that, I had about one day to pack, and then it was off to Kimberley, to pick up the rental car. After traveling for half a day there, We picked up the rental car and then drove it to another Volunteer's site, where I promptly fell ill, most likely from a combination of an ear infection and heat stroke. To add to that, I may have had eaten something not-so-great as well. The next morning was spent touring the clinic of a rural South African village as a patient. I did have to wait for about two hours for a five minute visit, in which I explained I was allergic to sulfa drugs etc and where the pains were. I was given a slew of medicines and felt a little better after leaving the clinic. However, a bit later, I started having allergy symptoms, so I added allergy medication to the medicines they were perscribing me. It wasn't until the next day that I looked at one of the second ingredients listed and realized I was taking a sulfa-drug, which would explain the allergy symptoms and rather unhappy bowels.

Our next stop was our training village near the Botswana border where we spent the 23rd to the 25th. My host siblings have grown immensely, but I did manage, despite still feeling awful to take pictures with them, even getting one to smile for me. Christmas
Eve by the way, is celebrated by lighting firecrackers and shouting 'Happy!' Quite similar to how New Years is celebrated as well.

Then it was off to Pretoria for Christmas, where I took this picture, in front of what I call the 'Fro Flower:

The reason I could take this picture was that we were in the rather beautiful gardens in front of the Union Buildings, as Pretoria is one of the capitals of South Africa.

Then it was off the Drakensburg Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal (see the first picture). Which meant even more driving. All in all, I traveled more than 3500 km.

For those of you astute friends that might be wondering, yes, I did pack more than one t-shirt... and I did wash clothes.

So we arrived at a lodge on boxing day, and unfortunately didn't have provisions to begin a three day hike the next day. Fortunately, we were able to buy everything the next morning and then six of us set out on a three day hike to climb Champagne's Castle, a mountain of about 3300 meters.

We hiked one day to the base of the mountain. Summited and descended in one day, and then spent the next day hiking/limping back to the car. We were all rather sore.

As you can see it was cloudy, which was alright because when the clouds opened up we would see an amazing view, providing a convenient reason to stop and rest, and then it was time to climb again. The climb took us five hours, descent took us four... and I'm really glad we didn't take the tent up the mountain and camp there, as had been recommended.
The shadowy figure in this picture with the semi-cowboy hat is me. This was the last big climb, in a rather steep rockfall. And we were essentially hiking into a cloud. We finally reached the top and then climbed the peak we thought was the highest, and then thought another one was higher so we walked along the ridge to that one, unknowingly straying into Lesoto, a mountainous country completely surrounded by South Africa.
So then it was time to toast nutella covered biscuits at the top of the mountain... and take a picture, gotta love camera timers.

Upon our return we headed for St. Lucia, where we went on a turtle tour, which entailed driving through a national park at night, seeing lots of animals... and then driving on the beach and seeing none. Alas, no sea turtles were seen that night, however we did see the tracks of one and in the park we saw a baby white rhino being leading it's mother, which was really cool.
And we got to hang out at the beach, which was also nice. We returned and did some hiking. It was not as overcast, but the beauty was overshadowed by some playful baboons in the parking lot, that thought cars were jungle gyms.

The mother and baby baboon were especially cute, but we didn't get a good picture of them.

After that, it was time to head back to site, so AJ and I caught a ride with a Norwegian that had been staying in the same hostel as us.

Now, the next picture requires some explaination. Driving in South Africa is like driving in a simulator that throws random situations at you. First of all, you are driving on the wrong side of the road, the gearshift is to your left, so all the roundabouts, and turns are a bit odd. Couple that with potholes on the roads, when there are roads (a lot of South Africa is paved, except in the rural areas, which is where volunteers usually are, so we did get stuck in sand... twice). To add to that, animals like crossing the road. Donkeys, horses, monkeys, dogs, baboons, goats, sheep, and cows are common sights not only on the sides of the road, but on the road. Every now and then there will be people too, some of them dancing, some not so sober, but all in all it keeps you on your toes.

However, unfortunately, some of us that usually drive on the right side of the road have a tendency to veer slightly to the left, which is what happened to our Norwegian friend, and we hit a rather large pothole, blowing out two tires, knocking off two hubcaps, and leaving us stranded by the side of the road for two hours (funny how there is only one spare tire). And so, after all that, I returned to site, safe ... and healthier than when I left.