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.


The day I became a multi-millionaire

(This post was written approx. 5 days ago)

This past week has seen me in three completely different countries: Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. It is difficult to compress all the experiences and impressions I have had this week, but if I had to sum it up in one word, it would be: overwhelming.

Truck Travel
So far I have said little about life on the Oasis truck, but this week is as good as any to start off. Four out of the past five days have been drive days. First of all, there is no such thing as “clean” on the truck. The seats all face each other, like facing pews in a Church. All of our bags fit under the seats, and there are overhead lockers to store our day-to-day items. There is an elevated area right behind the cab of the truck called “The Beach,” where we are allowed to sunbathe and stick our heads out of the roof. Some people are beach worshippers, and spend hours just baking in the African sun as the miles pass us by. Anyone who knows me will know that I am not one of those up on the beach all the time, but it is very comfortable up there.
The windows on the truck are covered by a large “clear” plastic tarp – it’s supposed to be clear, but it is most definitely not. Most of the time the tarps are rolled up so that the windows are open to the air (there is no glass). This is where the dirty part comes in. Wind and dust blows through the truck sometimes with gale force — there is just no saving hair in that kind of situation. Most of the time I put my hair back into a ponytail when the truck is moving… and when I take the elastic out at the end of the day, the hair is frozen in place. It’s like hairspray but better! Dustspray! Without the sides up
though, the truck starts to bake like a sauna.

Cards are played while the sides are down, but we have lost many Jacks of Hearts out of the windows so playing is treacherous most of the time. I spend most of my time reading (surprise!)… actually, I think a few people on the truck are scared of me, I finish a book or sometimes 2 a day. There is some good reading on the truck, ranging from Out of Africa to Asimov to Kathy Reichs to Arthur Conan Doyle.
The most popular past time of all is sleep… often drive days mean 5am wake-up calls, so a lot of catching up is done on the truck.

Lunch takes place on the side of the road. Stu, the driver, pulls over at an appropriate spot (with shade if we are lucky) and we open the side of the truck to get at the food inside. Each day there is a designated “cook group” of about 3 or 4 people. They will have prepared lunch the night before, which generally consists of a medley of cold pasta, tuna, canned sweetcorn, beans and onion. The truck also stops for ‘pee breaks,’ which also take place on the side of the road.
We take lighters to burn the toilet paper after use. You learn to squat. You learn to get over stage fright.

There have been two nights of bush camping so far, and one of them took place in Mozambique. After being terrified by stories of how we were camping in one of the most landmined countries in the world, we set up our tents. It gets dark here by 6pm. The night is pitch black. Even the stars hide until later in the evening. Dinner prep takes around 3-4 hours, as we cook over open flame. By the time we finish eating, there is little left to do and we retreat to the tents.

After Mozambique, we continued along our journey to Harare, Zimbabwe. Again I was shocked by how different two neighbouring countries can be. Mozambique (or rather, Tete Corridor, which is the part of Mozambique that we visited) is dry and dusty as hell. Zimbabwe is lush. We drove past gorgeous ranches that spread over acres of land, lined with white picket fences and filled with horses. We drove into
an industrial city, with tall sky-scrapers and beautiful architecture. We also drove into a country in turmoil. You can tell the wealth that was once here. But it isn’t any more.

I changed $100USD. The official exchange rate at the border is 1USD:35000Zim dollars. The exchange rate that we got on the black market was 1USD:350,000. I became an instant zim-millionaire! The exchange rate fluctuates every day, prices skyrocket, inflation soars. How they survive, I have no idea.

We visited an orphanage that Oasis supports in Harare. The children were just finishing up a cricket match with the bats that the last Oasis group had brought them. All we brought with us was food. Lots and lots of food. Rice, maize flour, sugar, milk powder and lots of canned meat. The cook was in tears of joy. She laughed with us, hugged us, and said “We were almost starving, and then the Lord came.” Many of the people on the truck wanted to buy toys with the money that we had donated. But once we got there, we knew that food had been the right choice.

I am now in a multilevel shopping centre in Harare, on internet that is 60cents/hour or 200,000 Zim dollars/hour. It is beautiful here, and I love it. We have two weeks in Zimbabwe altogether. I will let you know how fast I spend my millions of dollars.