R.I.P. Mr Gorman

Before this entry, I would like to pay my respects to my favourite English teacher in high school, Mr. Gorman, who passed away from cancer on November 29th. He was the teacher who encouraged my development in creative writing, and I wouldn’t have had the courage to pursue writing without him. He taught me Writer’s Craft, Grade 11 and Grade 12 English and played a huge role in my high school career. If I were in Ottawa, I would be sitting in the front row of his memorial service, but since I cannot, I am sending my goodwill out to his family and to his extended Immaculata family who will be so sad during this time.

Today I am leaving South Africa and starting on the next portion of my journey. My flight leaves at 19:55 tonight, on its long long way to Perth. The next part of my adventure will see me and Sarah by ourselves, travelling Australia and New Zealand and South East Asia without the security of a truck and a tour leader — and can we say, we cannot wait. This has been such a great learning experience, and the best way to start our gap years. I plan on writing a recap on the plane ride over, so expect a longer entry over the next couple of days.

Lesotho was beautiful, and I’m glad I got the chance to visit while I was here. I’m sure if I had done SA myself, I would have missed out Lesotho in favour of the Wild Coast, but it would have been a mistake. We pony-trekked in the pouring rain and hail stones the size of golf balls, we hiked in the glorious sunshine amidst the “Kingdom in the Sky”. And the Drakensberg Mountains were stunning, with waterfalls and streams around every bend. It was idyllic, really. And now we are in Joburg, and unfortunately we haven’t had the chance to explore at all. We arrived late last night and leave in the afternoon today. I even have to give Soweto a miss, and I regret it… but it’s just another excuse to come back to this country some time in the future.

To all the Oasis people I am leaving… I will miss you so much! There have been moments on this truck I will never be able to share with anyone except you guys, and that will bind us forever. Even though we all live in such disparate locations, you are all welcome in Canada whenever you choose to visit. You have all my love.

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Adrenaline Beauty

Stepping out onto perilously thin wire mesh, the ground hundreds of metres below, I take a deep breath before the death march toward the centre of Bloukrans Bridge. It’s what I’ve wanted to do from the beginning of the trip — isn’t it? Isn’t it? I question myself over and over, but not as loudly as the others from the truck who are standing around, some shaking and quaking, some talking gibberish to compensate for their nervousness. I try not to show fear. Perhaps only those paying close attention would notice the increased heaviness of breath or lightly clenched fists.

Watching other people makes it seem easier. They put us through in weight order, and with the few men jumping it means I’m not first. The music is blasting so loud that you can’t hear the men scream, although we find out later that most of them went down swearing bloody murder. We wave to the people over on the viewing platform; those not even brave enough to walk out under the bridge. They have our cameras in tow, so we smile big, put on happy faces. Why are we doing this again?

There is no time to think about it. Toes out over the edge, 5-4-3-2-1 and no time to think about what you’re doing. Looking down is unavoidable, as is the feeling of having your stomach drop out of your body! But the rush is great, my scream is the loudest of everyone and the view — once your eyes can actually take it in — is incredible. Being hoisted back up is actually the scariest part. But when the blood rushes back into the rest of your body and your feet are on solid ground, then you can take in what you’ve just done, and brag about it for the rest of the trip.

Bloukrans Bridge is the highest bungy in the world.

Our next stop was the otter trail, a 3.5 hour hike which winds around the garden route coastline. This is more like the South Africa I imagined! Whales frolicked off the shore as the surf pounded the ground at our feet. We swam for an hour underneath a waterfall by the ocean, and generally had a fantastic time.

South Africa is getting better by the moment!

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Ostrichs and Caves

South Africa is an undeniably beautiful country. Today I sat up on the beach with wind blowing through my hair as we passed through the mountains. There is lots of room on the truck to stretch out, sun tan and chat with everyone.

After a night in the quaint town of Swellendam, we travelled to an ostrich farm. Ostrichs are far from my favourite creatures – I wasn’t unhappy to see one being devoured by a lion – but today I learned and experienced almost enough to change my perceptions. We saw the eggs (indestructable), the chicks (quite cute!) and nippy adults who we were allowed to ride. Riding an ostrich also did not sound like my idea of fun – but I figured it was about as close to riding a hippogryff as I was ever going to get! So swallowing my trepidation and pretending he was Buckbeak from Harry Potter, I hoisted myself up onto an ostrich, whose head was covered by a canvas sack. Gripping firmly onto the wings, I braced myself as the bag was removed from the head and the ostrich bolted into a bumpy gallop! I lasted about 10 strides before tumbling off the back end… but at least I could say that I did it!

We then moved on to the Cangol Caves, a spectacular calcite rock formation of stalagmites and stalactites. I did the “adventure” tour, which involved crawling through tight spaces, climbing up chimneys and slipping and bashing my head on a rock (not mentioned in the brochure!) All was well, and somehow all of us managed to slide through “the letterbox”, a tiny crack about 27cm in width. I really must have lost weight on this trip! It won’t last long, especially if ostrich steak is on the menu… on a plate is still my favourite way to encounter an ostrich, despite today.

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Cape Town and Farewells

Cape Town is the end of the road for half of the people I have been travelling with for the past two months. There are so many people I am going to miss, and so many people I am going to see in the future… without our resident funny man Chris or Tash’s famous laugh or Isabel’s hugs, the trip just isn’t going to be the same. It does mean more space in the truck for the rest of us though!

Travelling overland is like being thrown into a pressure cooker. Life is condensed into a tiny space, where personalities jostle and collide. Our experiences – these new, fabulous, unique experiences – are shared with each other. Life is surreal when you travel; it is reality the way we wish reality to be. It is why so many people find it addictive. It is also why some people can’t wait to get home and back to the regular. There is something highly charged and magnified about life right now. Senses are heightened. Emotions. It is easier than life back home. It is much more difficult than life back home. Travelling is always a challenge, and that’s why I love it.

Cape Town weather has been somewhat of a disappointment, but it improved remarkably for today. Trying to cram everything that this city has to offer within two and a half days is impossible. We tried. On the first day, as it poured with rain, I made my way to the District Six museum. I have never been to a place like this before – a museum that is not designed for visitors but for the people who actually lived through these events. This was not a museum of facts, but a museum of life – people’s life stories were plastered up on the walls next to giant murals of a thriving corner of the city that existed 50 years ago – but does not exist now.

The next day I took a hop-on, hop-off bus around the city to see the best of Cape Town. Sarah and Mike were also aboard. It took us around to District Six itself and allowed a glimpse of the reality the museum had told me about. It was scary to compare the grassy hills to the bustling streets that were once there. The bus took us up to the Table mountain lower cable car station, but due to high winds we were unable to ascend. Then back through Camps Bay and Clifton’s Bay – truly spectacular parts of the city that I wouldn’t have glimpsed without taking the bus.

Today, I pulled the curtains open to sunshine streaming into the room. Finally! After breakfast on the balcony outside my room, overlooking Long Street, Sarah and I ventured down to the train station to head to Boulder’s Beach – the home of the penguins. One train, one bus and a minicab later, we arrived to the most gorgeous of beaches and crystal clear turquoise water. We yearned to swim but we were short on time – we had left Cape Town just in time to see cable cars start their climb up the mountain! But by the time we got up there, once again it had closed due to high winds. We will try again tomorrow morning, before the truck leaves.

Now I am about to head to Robben Island, and I am back down at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront. The waterfront is my favourite spot in the entire city – and so far I have three pictures of the exact same spot (day one – no table mountain visible, day two – table mountain visible against a grey sky, day three – beautiful sunshine behind table mountain!) It has been lovely to relax for a few days, and terribly sad to say goodbye to everyone. How can you feel like you’ve lost so much when you’ve only known people for two months?

Australia is fast creeping up on us… only two weeks now to the next part of my adventure. I can’t believe that soon I’ll be writing in a different continent, but it will be happening sooner than I believe.

Africa will be hard to beat.

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Mondesa

There is a definite shift in atmosphere as the truck moves into South Africa. Namibia, of course, is rife with South African connection, much more so than I realized upon entering Mondesa – the township of Swakopmund. Apartheid is so closely associated with South Africa that it is easy to forget how it affected all the countries surrounding. Township tours themselves seem to have a certain stigma about them – no one wants to be seen as a privileged white tourist snapping photos of a black slum. And thankfully, it wasn’t like that at all. Because of the warmth of the people we met and the depth of meaning I acquired from the experience, it proved to be one of the most worthwhile outings of the entire trip so far.

Mondesa is divided into four tribal areas, the largest of which is the Damara clan (although they are not the most populous tribe in Swakopmund, they dominate this particular township). Despite these divisions, which were set in place by the government specifically to cause conflict, there is little tension between the tribes. Everyone is free to intermingle and live as they wish. Our guide, Castro, was Damara, and he kept us at ease throughout the tour. Only three of us ventured out on this adventure – myself, Ben and Gabriella.

Mondesa is built up of low-walled brick houses. Some of the buildings seem more like prison cells than homes – many of the walls have no windows at all. But Castro informed us that they build the walls that way so it is easy to extend the houses once a homeowner has more money. It is small details like this that keep us from becoming overly cynical — people wait many years to be allowed into the township, and life is happy and enjoyable, for all the troubles.

We are taken to the home of the Damara chief, Oma Lina. She is the first female chief in Damara history. She is eighty years old and a formidable character — she dominated the small living room with her presence. With her grandchildren crawling over her knee, she politely answered all our questions and drew from a vast fountain of South Africa, Namibian, German and Afrikaans historical knowledge.

From there, we moved on to a so-called “temporary” settlement for people waiting to be allotted land in Mondesa. The settlement was only supposed to last for one year, and so far has been around for over twenty. The people there are much less fortunate and must make their homes out of items they recover from the nearby landfill. Generally, the homes do not have electricity, however there are very strange street lamps on every makeshift corner. We entered the home of a local artisan, whose bright neon home certainly stood out amongst the dusty browns and greys. There, we met one of the brightest children I have ever known, a twelve-year-old boy named Daniel. He grilled us about the nature of our trip and where we were from – he is desperate to travel himself – and he taught us the four clicks of the Damara tongue. We exchanged addresses and I will send him the pictures I took of us in his home, and of him playing Professor Daniel. I can only hope that he has the opportunity to take his education as far as he wants to… it is children like that that are not only the future of Africa but of the world.

A brief stop at a local medicine woman’s store and a few bites of a local meal ended our journey. The mopani worms were delicious (surprisingly, since I hated them in Zimbabwe) but the rest of the meal came with the unpleasant aftertaste of gritty sand… an unfortunate inevitability in the desert!

Some photos…

Amy and Daniel Amy and Daniel

Professor Daniel Getting click lessons from Professor Daniel

Mopani WormsMopani Worms… mmm

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