Friday, April 18, 2008

Dear Friends & Family,
Have been having a few more adventures so I thought I would relate them to you before I forget all the details. Yesterday we had a fabulous day visiting Cape Point, which is located in a national park where the Cape of Good Hope is located. This is the farthest south western point in Africa. One of our problems about going here was that we didn't have a vehicle to get there and it is difficult to do without one. We don't want to rent a car because they drive on the left hand side here, which we haven't done in years, and the way they drive is somewhat scary. Nearly every car has several dents and scrapes. Also, neither one of us remembered to bring our driver's licenses! So we checked into excursions and they were rather expensive. When our very nice neighbors at the guesthouse where our apartment is invited us to tag along with them yesterday, we jumped at the chance. They are Jonathon & Bev, a couple from Johannesburg, and his visitingsister, Ruth, from England. We drove to Hout Bay again, and walked around the harbour so Ruth could see it. It was another perfect day, weather-wise, although the mist was still burning off at the seaside. There is a very scenic road, called Chapman's Peak Road, which runs along the Atlantic coast out of Hout Bay towards Cape Point and we stopped several times for views and pictures. Our next stop was for "tea" in Simonstown, a very picturesque village where there is also a major naval base. It is one of the oldest towns in South Africa and has lots of old restored buildings as well as a nice harbour. Not very far from there is a very large Jackass penguin colony at Boulder's Beach. There are about 3000 penguins nesting there now although the colony started with only 2 nesting pairs in the 1980's. The beach is also beautiful because there are lots of huge boulders, and a nicely done boardwalk which goes by a lot of the areas where they nest.
We pressed on to the national park which is covered in low-growing vegetation indigenous to this area called fynbos. After an excellent lunch at the Two Oceans restaurant, we hiked up a somewhat steep trail to the lighthouse. The name of the restaurant comes from the fact that the Atlantic and Indian Ocenas meet here. We had expected to have baboon encounters here because everyone warned us about them and said how aggressive they were, and to be sure we avoided them and locked our car. But there were none to be seen. Perhaps they had been removed because some nuns were attacked by them last week and it was in the news. What we did see were several mice on the trail, and one nibbled Elaine's shoe in the restaurant, so she wasn't too happy about that!! It was very windy at the top of the peak but sunny and beautiful. On the hike back we saw an eland in the vegetation near the funicular station, but no other antelope or zebras, which wasdisappointing. Of course, we had our picture taken at the sign that said the Cape of Good Hope, and the GPS reading for it. On the drive back we stopped in Hout Bay for dinner and enjoyed it immensely, as Bev and Jonathon are so interesting and informative.
It was great to be with a South African couple because we could ask them lots of questions. One thing we asked about was the crime problem and they verified that in Johannesburg it is very bad, although they live there. For example, they never leave their garden door open or unlocked because then it is possible that a gang of blacks will invade and rob them. They also said that it happens occasionally that a gang of 5-6 blacks with AK-47's will go in a restaurant or even a grocery store and rob everybody in the place. The police seem to be either corrupt or unable to deal with problems like this, so this kind of behavior is escalating. We also asked them about whether they had to pay for school, since they have one son in college and one in high school. They said they pay about 1000 rand a month for high school and college is about 2000 rand per month. Another lady told us that her primary school son also had to pay about 800 rand. Currently the rand is 7.86 to the dollar. Hearing about these costs expalins why so many of the blacks here are uneducated and why we see so many young kids on the streets trying to sell things, or even just begging.
4/16/08 I stopped yesterday and will try to finish this up today. We have just come back from another seaside stroll at Sea Point, since today and tomorrow are supposed to be the best days and then a front is going to come in. Last week we had a few VERY windy days and nights, so we did some museums and one more movie. They call the wind "the Cape Doctor" because it blows all the crappy air out of here, although we have not noticed too much smog in the air at all. On one of our last days with David & Ann, we drove by a huge fire in a mostly deserted hillside area near Paarl, and we took some pictures. When we passed the fire again after dark, it had spread all over the ridge and was throwing up huge flames. For several days after that the air was awful in the whole area. It has cleared up now, and in fact, we think that one of the most delightful things about all of South Africa is that the air was so clear everywhere.
One of the museums we went to was the Gold Museum. There was a whole history of gold mining and gold jewelry making and LOTS of gold artifacts. Of course, a lot of the gold in the world has been mined here in Africa, and it has been traditional that African tribal leaders, kings, etc. always wear a lot of gold and use gold covered utensils to impress their people and other tribes too. The other museum we went to was the South African National Gallery. We were not impressed with the painting section, but other areas, such as the photographic part were brilliant, and did a lot to show conditions during Apartheid. We bought a few things at the shop there because they were so much better than you can find out on the street.
The movie we went to was called "Zeitgeist", and was supposed to be a commentary on social fallacies. It started by comparing Christianity to pagan religions; went on to support the theory that 9/11, and indeed other national catastrophies such a Pearl Harbor, were actually set up by our own government to get popular approval to wage wars; and ended by explaining how the banking systems own all the politicians and are calling all the shots in world governments. It was quite a thought provoking evening.
Just watching the news on TV here can be thought provoking, given the state of the Zimbabwe elections. Perhaps it will all come to a head today when the South African president is due to address the UN Security Council concerning the fact that Mogabe, the Zimbabwe dictator, is refusing to release the results of the election (since he probably lost). If some international pressure isn't put on him, he will no doubt still maintain power and everone says he is a nutcase who is ruining the country, and maybe taking the whole region down with him. On a lighter side, about South African TV, we have never been in a country before where TV programs star at such odd times. For example, tonight's episode of "Friends" starts at 6:27. There are 4 channels and luckily, we are also getting one cable channel, the Travel channel, because the first 4 are not very good. The travel channel here is much better than the one we get in the USA and we are enjoying it.
One last social commentary. A few years ago the company called Eskom, which supplies electricity applied for a permit to build more power plants and when they wouldn't let them, they warned that by 2008 there would be shortages. Sure enough, there are now rolling blackouts. They turn off the power for several hours in different areas because there isn't enough. The really silly thing is that they publish a schedule of the proposed blackout areas and then they don't stick to it, so when the police try to have people to direct traffic at the stoplights in the areas where the blackouts are supposed to be, they aren't in the right places and traffic is hopelessly snarled. And, to add insult to injury, now Eskom is warning that there is going to be a 60% increase for electrical service! Probably I have bored you silly once again so I will close and try to bat off another one of these the next time we have anything of interest to impart. Our next tour starts next Tuesday, so we will be leaving Capetown next Wednesday. Sending big hugs to all and hoping things are going well there.
Love, Mary & Elaine


CaliforniaGrammy said...

Mary, I have never been bored by your travelogues, in fact just the opposite, I've been intrigued with your ambition and just plain guts to do the stuff you do. But now it seems time for another adventure. How delightful to have such nice neighbors. Things are good at Park Sierra, we're gearing up for Stagecoach Days starting next Thursday, and we're glad to not be on the "in charge" side of it and will just play, play, play!

Laura said...

Hi you two, glad to hear your updates it makes me feel like you are just around the corner. We will be in our house for one year in June with one year more to go - can't wait....
Take care, love you both.
Laura n Gordon