Finetastic Adventures

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Busy Festive Season

Now that our clients have returned to our site and we've been busy with their registration and such, it's time to recall the wonderful holiday season of December. It's so hard to believe that we've had two summer school closings, and our last. But we did take full advantage of it!!

Three Weeks with Alyssa and Laval

The first three weeks of December we were treated to a visit by Alyssa and Laval from Mauritius. I must say the time with them was so special; not since she has been in high school have we had such quality time with Alyssa. There were no friends that she had to visit, and no schoolwork to occupy her time. So in essence, this is the most time we have spent with her in several years. Reakgona's clients had left at the end of November, so we left in a rental car on December 3 and headed to Botswana. Francistown was a stopover on the way coming and going; what it had to offer was a great Chinese restaurant. After leaving there we spent two nights in Kasane, near the Zambia and Zimbabwe borders. On the road to Kasane there were two separate occasions when we saw first just one elephant, then several, right on the side of the road. Knowing there are thousands of elephants in the country, we didn't stop to take photos; of course we never saw another elephant that whole week! But there was never a shortage of wild donkeys either on or near the road; there are more of them than people living here. Our full day there was spent on a day trip to Victoria Falls, and other than the fact that we could have done it on our own, it was great. The Falls are definitely deserving of being a 'wonder of the world'; the only hard part was being in the town of Vic Falls where the Zimbabwean dollar is worthless and the people are so desperate. In fact, we bumped into some Peace Corps friends and she gave me a 200,000 Zim dollar bill worth less than a US dollar. Though we debated the choice of viewing the Falls from Zambia vs Zimbabwe (Zam vs Zim), I am glad we stuck with the superior views from Zim. Not that we relished paying visa fees to their corrupt government, but it was good to support their citizens hawking their wares at the market. Before leaving Kasane the following day we took an early morning game drive in Chobe National Park, but it wasn't a great time of year to see lots of animals. The early rains meant early migration to different areas of the country, but it was still a beautiful drive along the Chobe River where we did see the water animals. We had hoped to spend time on the Makgadikgadi Pans, but the rains also prevented that, so we just hung out at a very neat lodge, Planet Baobab, near there, for two nights. Their pool and food and the whole place was really enjoyable, so it wasn't time wasted. The last two nights were in Maun, on the edge of the Okavango Delta, and we did a day trip on the Delta in a mokoro (dug-out canoe). A poler moves you slowly along the channels of this incredible, huge delta, sort of reminding us of the Everglades. Poling apparently isn't as easy as it looks; Alyssa tried it when we were finished and ended up in the water. After our last night in Francistown we re-entered South Africa at the Platjan border crossing; that in itself was a feat. I was glad Dave was driving-they call this a bridge! It's nothing more than a concrete slab, just wider than the car, crossing the Limpopo River. And the two border crossings near Platjan were closed because of the water being too high; I would have hated to see them! Before returning to Polokwane we stayed a couple of nights in the very north of Limpopo; we spent a day in SA's newest national park – Mapungubwe and were awed by the scenery and the always intriguing baobabs.

Before Alyssa and Laval returned to Mauritius we hung around Polokwane for a week, during which time the ANC national conference was being held here so the place was abuzz. Then we drove them to Joburg, where we did a day tour of Soweto and the Apartheid Museum, one of the best museums I've ever been to. It was a great visit with them and now we have to wait only two more months before she comes back while Larry is here.

The Drakensberg- one of our favorites

A year ago when Alyssa was here we spent some time staying and hiking in the 'Berg. Dave and I fell in love with this beautiful mountain range that borders the province of KZN and Lesotho. So we decided to return to see some new spots with some friends. After dropping Alyssa and Laval at the airport, we filled the rental car with 3 other PCVs and headed south. This would be our first vacation with volunteers our own age, and it was fun!

We split the trip into 3 segments with the first near Royal Natal and Golden Gate Parks, where we stayed in an incredible backpackers. Brenda wasn't feeling great over Christmas Day when we had decided to hike Sentinel Peak via the chain ladders. This hike is one I had been wanting to do since being there last year, and I am proud to say that all four of us completed the climb and descent on the ladders, which are pretty scary, seeing that they cling to the side of a cliff at the end of the hike just below the plateau. Once up the ladders you are on top of the Amphitheatre in Royal Natal and at the source of the Tugela River, so after hiking across the plateau the top of the Tugela Falls are reached, with Sentinel Peak right there. This too is a scary proposition; there are no guard rails or warnings about the sheer drop. In fact, two days earlier a young man had fallen to his death here. (We knew because a couple staying at our backpackers had done the hike that day and got to the plateau as the helicopter was landing.) We enjoyed the amazing vistas from a safe distance and returned to the backpackers in time for a wonderful turkey dinner which Brenda had prepared while we were hiking. We had gone shopping the day before, but the herbs were straight out of the garden in the yard.

After another hike in that area the next day, we drove to the Southern 'Berg' and stayed 3 nights near the Sani Pass. We did another amazing and beautiful hike for a day; we spent the other day on a 4x4 Sani Pass tour. Four wheel drive is necessary for this road over the mountain into Lesotho, and again I was glad not to be driving!! The 27 tortuous hairpin turns on a narrow, rocky road while gaining 1330 meters in 8 kms is exhilarating and peaks at the highest border crossing in the country. The current controversy here is about paving the pass; personally I hope they leave it dirt/gravel to discourage too many drivers from using it. After leaving the Underberg/Sani area we stopped at the village of a fellow PCV; it was great to see Brad and where he lives and works in the shadow of the 'Berg. It was also fun to learn what happened the day before during his mother's and brother's visit from the States. His host family wanted to give them a party, which means everyone in the village is invited. For this occasion, in addition to having traditional vegetable dishes and pap of course, they slaughtered two goats. Brad and his brother did the dirty deed; then the tradition is to pour the bile on the people who slaughtered the goat. And after that, to sleep in a room with the dead goats, which he did with his mother and brother. We missed the party but were fed some leftovers and got to meet Brad's host family and his USA family.

We then traveled along the Midlands Meander, stopping at some places of interest, as well as art galleries and a goat cheese factory, before we reached our destination in the Central 'Berg. For the next 3 nights, over New Years, we stayed at a lodge that Dave and I had enjoyed the previous year with Alyssa. We were kindly given a 6 bed dorm for the 5 of us, as promised, and though it was fully booked, we didn't have to share our room with a sixth. One more hike to some waterfalls was done on New Year's Day, along with some hanging out and visiting the great bakery and weaving center on the Eve. That night's dinner was the only one of our 10 days that we didn't cook ourselves, so it was nice to sit and be served and just chat with the other guests.

It was another terrific holiday, and we made this one with no flat tire. (In Botswana, as well as each other trip we've taken, we've had at least one flat – thanks to the condition of the roads.) Though we loved having Alyssa and Laval here, and we totally enjoyed our trips, it was nice to get home and to have it all to ourselves. Now it's back to the routine, though now it's a bit hectic with the registering of our new and returning clients and setting up the books for 2008. In our next blog update we'll fill you in with what's happening in our NGO, secondary projects, and Peace Corps. Happy and healthy 2008!

p.s. Photos will be posted soon!


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