Monday, March 31, 2008

Dear Friends and Family,
Our friends, Ann & David, have gone to a birthday party and left us here in their house so I finally have a little time to try to write another travel tale to you all.
The last travelogue was from Durban, where we dropped off 10 of the people in our group and picked up 7 more. We were joined by 2 young English gals in their mid-20's, one retired Canadian man, a 40ish Canadian man, a young gal from New York, and 2 Austrian sisters in their 30's. We stayed at a nice hotel right on the beach promenade in Durban, which was actually the nicest area we saw in the whole city.
There has been a lot of money spent on the waterfront and there is a great aquarium here. Durban has the largest concentration of Muslims, or what they call Malays, because a lot of these people were brought here from Malaysia and India to work several hundred years ago. Now, unfortunately, Durban seems to be deteriorating and lots of the areas we passed looked very distressed. The countryside near Durban is beautiful, however. We didn't have time to visit the very large Indian market there.
The next day, we headed inland to the Drakensburg Mountains. This is a beautiful area as well, but was rainy and cold when we arrived there and stayed that way during our 2 days there. It was the first time that we needed to put on long-sleeved shirts, jeans, and fleece tops. The first day, most of our group went on a hike to some cave paintings done by the San people who were the first inhabitants here, even before the Zulu. Elaine and I stayed at the hotel because I had twisted my knee and she was still feeling the effects of an intestinal infection. The second day I joined the group for a tour through the local Zulu township. Previously, we had visited a Zulu Village which was a bunch of tourist schlock and quite a waste of time and money. This village was where the local people really live. We went to the school, the tribal spiritual healer, had a performance of Zulu songs and dances by about 20 kids, and visited a home and small farm. It was raining off and on the whole visit and by the time it was over, we were all covered in mud, a condition they have to endure whenever it rains, and when it doesn't rain, they endure lots of dust. The kids were enthusiastic and we were impressed with their English skills. The houses are very small, usually 2-3 rooms, in a cement block structure, and the families are usually large, often 10 children or more. Despite the fact that AIDS and TB are a huge problem here and these diseases are affecting up to 40% of the population, the birthrate is so high that populations are still increasing!
Our guide was a 25 year old man who is now responsible for 9 younger brothers and sisters after the deaths of their parents.
There is a huge disparity between the way the blacks and whites live. We drive through towns where there are nice middle class and upper class homes, inhabited by whites, and then there is always a black township on the outskirts where there are very small shacks.
Driving through towns there are usually people out selling things on the street, often right in front of the established supermarkets. There will be black women with a few piles of fruit to sell, and it is incredible to think that they will sit there all day to sell these few things and the profit it will bring will make a difference to their families.
In the news we have been learning about corruption and crime here. There is a thing that happens here called cable theft. This means that electrical wires (some to traffic lights) have been stolen and the wire itself has been used for making jewelry to sell or sold for the value of the metal.
We have visited parks and monuments where the descriptive plaques are missing, or even the rifles they were holding are gone, because of theft. There are rolling brown outs because they are not producing enough electricity yet they are raising the rates by up to 60% soon, and a lot of the electricity is being diverted to Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The government officials we have seen being interviewed on TV sound like idiots and later we find out that they got their positions due to family influences, and they are not doing their jobs properly. And the man who is now the president of the African National Congress, and likely to be the next President of the country, is a convicted rapist. Many of the white South Africans we have spoken with are in the process of trying to sell everything and emigrate to England or Australia, yet they are only allowed to take two million rand out of the country. (The rand is currently about 8 to the US dollar).
This all sounds so dismal and yet this is one of the most beautiful places we have ever visited. The land area is vast and because of the climate, they can grow just about anything here. There are diverse landscapes where there are huge areas of sugar cane and pineapples, bananas, then other areas where there are huge tracts of trees, fields of corn, wheat, canola, orchards of every fruit, and here in the Cape region, vineyards by the hundreds. There are wineries here that are 325 years old! The wines are delicious and also quite affordable. Not as cheap as 2 buck Chuck, but much better and we pay between 5 and 8 dollars for a very good wine. Food in restaurants is also very affordable.
After the Drakensburg mountains, we drove down to the coast and it is just as beautiful as California, but warmer. We stopped at a place where Neil, one of the younger Canadian men, did the world's highest bungy jump - 216 meters off a bridge. We could have done another zipline tour through the canopy of the forest near Tsitskamma, but we just visited the national park instead, since we had already done the ziplines in Costa Rica. Then we had a marvelous drive along the Garden Route, a very beautiful drive along the coast. We headed inland into an area called the Klein Karoo, where there are lots of ostrich farms, and a town called Oodschoorn, which is a big Afrikaans area. Part of the group went to the Cango Caves, while part of us stayed in town to attend a big festival held there yearly. It was a music festival so we had a wonderful time visiting the various venues where different people were performing, and most people were drinking and listening and having a great time. Lots of the songs were in Afrikaans but some were in English. We even got free baseball caps and tee shirts from a local radio station while we were sitting with some new local friends drinking a local brandy called Klipdrift. We also enjoyed a hard cider called Hunter's Dry, even though Savannah is the one most people recommend.
The drive to Capetown from this region was absolutely spectacular. The mountains are incredible and alongside the road we periodically came across groups of baboons. The topography near Capetown is really incredible because there are lush valleys with orchards and vineyards and then these huge mountains towering above them. This area makes the Napa Valley look puny. Everywhere there are wineries with impressive buildings and beautiful tasting rooms. Lots of them have art and sculpture displays as well.
Now I have to close, because David and Ann are back and I can tell you the rest later. Thank you to those friends who have e-mailed us or made comments on our blog - we enjoy your input. Sending big hugs to everybody.
Love, Mary & Elaine

1 comment:

CaliforniaGrammy said...

Mary, you are such a good writer re-creating this trip so we can be there with you. I love it when I check in on you and BAM! there's a new blog. What a great time you are having. I'd love to see the place that makes the Napa Valley look puny! And oh my, what great tasting wine that must be. Keep on having fun!