Daily and Weekly emails from South Africa

A Namibian breakfast in South Africa D5.21.35
Thu, 11 Jul 2002 06:50:18 -0700 (PDT)

Dear Mom and Dad,

I just arrived in Cape Town. I don't like it, but that's just a weird first impression. Table Mountain is visible crystal clear between buildings and down the streets. It towers over the city. That's cool.

Just walking from the bus station to my backpackers through the city was weird. There aren't many people around. Seems like a weekend in Portland, Seattle, or Australia. And my reception at the backpackers (recommended to me by a Danish couple in Windhoek) wasn't the best. Nothing wrong, just not a homey vibe.

But this street is very cool. I'm staying on Long Street. It's the main backpacker's drag with hostels, bars, take-aways, bookshops, travel agencies, and some not-so-cheap internet cafes. It's a tourist ghetto. I like tourist ghettos, especially when they're right in the city. So I should be liking Cape Town on first impression (Table Mountain is a cool sight, flat-topped, with the city at its base and going up the side).

On top
of Table Mountain
Part of Cape Town beneath Table Mountain

I know. I'm just a little dis-oriented. This is another one of those places I reach in my travels from which I don't know where I'm going. I mean, now that I'm in South Africa, now what? I only have 3-4 weeks and I still don't really know what to do here. Also, it was a 20 hour bus ride from Windhoek.

The bus was very nice, a two-story liner with stewardesses who came around serving fake coffee in Afrikaans or English. I sat next to Ezna, a white Namibian student at college near Cape Town. She looked at all my photos from Spain, to the Sahara, to Sossusvlei. Drained a battery and a half. She was very nice and gave me all the food her sister had packed for her journey.

So this morning for breakfast on the bus: "Are you sure you don't want a brotchen?" Ezna asked. "Yes, I would. Thank you. Dankie."

"Which one, the jam and cheese or this?"

I asked for the ham and cheese brotchen, so she gave me the turkey and cheese one. Then she gave me some gemsbok droewors biltong. That's oryx dried sausage jerky. Ezna offered me another sandwich roll, "Try the jam and cheese. It's good."

The jam and cheese roll was good. I don't know if I've eaten one before. A sweet cheese sandwich. Try it at home if you're a veggie with a sweet tooth and haven't experienced it before. It really is good.

Then to finish it off Ezna and I both ate a Cadbury Lunch Bar. It's like a Lion bar with peanuts. A Lion bar is like a thick Twix with rice puffs in the outside chocolate layer. "Now you've had a real Namibian breakfast!" Ezna said.

A very good thing about South Africa is their sweets and candy is different from home. A Mars bar in Europe is like the American Milky Way which is unlike the European Milky Way which is similiar to a mini 3 Musketeers bar in the States. What surprises are in store for me in the South African supermarket candy shelves? I don't eat candy at home if I'm not traveling, so overseas I indulge. Travel is an excuse to eat candy.

Ezna got off at a suburban Cape Town stop, but before she left she came back with a big bag of the droewors dried sausage. I mean like 600 grams of it. She said it was for good luck. Forget about all I said previous about Cape Town. I love this city. I sat next to a cute girl who fed me the whole journey here. And the restaurant Zoltan recommended to me for a mixed grill of game meat is right across the street from the backpackers. And just along Long Street I went into a bookshop and found a cheap copy of "Othello". I decided that I would read one Shakespeare every year, starting in 2001. And this internet cafe isn't too expensive and it's open 24 hours a day, and I can burn a CD of my photos. Very good thing since I actually took over 600 (not 300) at Sossusvlei and they're all good so I don't want to erase them.

This is perfect. I'm going to love Cape Town and South Africa and my hostel. Free breakfasts and free soup and bread at night.

Sometime I've got to write my monthly email,
Eric Vance

Robben Island Museum D5.21.36
Fri, 12 Jul 2002 18:38:02 -0700 (PDT)

Dear Mom and Dad, (to my Daily list for a typical daily email)

This morning I got up for the free breakfast at the hostel. It was one of those times, sun coming in through the window, traffic starting to pick up, dorm roommates trying to be quiet...and I had to go to the bathroom, so I got up. I had stayed up until after 4 AM (after a night sort of sleeping on a bus) burning my photos onto a CD. I wanted to sleep in, but then I wanted to get an early enough start on climbing Table Mountain, and breakfast--did it run free until 9 AM, 9:30, or 10? Not much to complain about really, another African pre-9AM wakeup.

So my breakfast was two bowls of cereal, one wheat flakes and one corn flakes. The boringness of the breakfast wasn't the disappointment, it was the company. The best thing about free hostel breakfastes are the other people eating it. It's a scene where I've learned what to do, how to communicate and meet people. And it's not just, "Are you going to eat that?" I can come up with brilliant morning lines in meeting people.

But when there are no other people... My hostel is "Simply the Best Backpackers." It's Quite Possibly the Worst (backpackers).

I got a taxi to the place where I'd start climbing Table Mountain. Except on the way I decided not to. There were clouds on top. I told the Rikki Martin driver (some weird taxi company using, like, sawed off dump trucks to whiz people around Cape Town. The guidebook calls them "Asian style" taxis. They're called "Rikki" taxis and they have "Rikki Martin" written on the sides.) I told the driver to take me to the Waterfront instead.

V&A Waterfront
The Waterfront with Table Mountain in the background

At the Waterfront I wanted to find the place to get the boats for the tour of Robben Island, the former prison for political enemies of the Apartheid South African state, like Nelson Mandela and other people I'd never heard about because I know nothing about Africa. But I didn't go straight there. First to the food court, tried another koeksister (sickly sweet syrupy donut twist), then failing to stalk other tourists. Finally to the boat ticket tour place where I saw Professor Deb Nolan, my former statistics professor at Berkeley, and the first one to write me a letter of recommendation (I'll be at Duke around mid-August, leaving Africa sometime before that).

That was cool, to meet someone on this side of the world whom I knew from the other side of back home. On each of my big world travels I get into a bus crash; get mugged or have money extorted from me; add a scar; and meet someone unexpectedly from back home. So far I haven't been mugged and I haven't gotten a scar (first travel scar was in Australia, putting my forehead through a glass window trying to listen to some guy play his guitar, thinking there was no glass in the window, or just not thinking; second one was on my elbow after possibly breaking it during a mountain bike crash on the "Most Dangerous Road in the World" in Bolivia).

So I showed Professor Nolan some photos on my digital camera. Then I sprinted off for the boat to Robben Island.

Usually the tourists are guided around the former prison by former political prisoners. But right now the ex-prisoners are on a hunger strike, and some have locked themselves back into the cells. It's some anti-corruption protest. Former prisoners going on strike at the former prison. I haven't been reading the local newspapers so I don't know the story. But it's weird, isn't it?

Nelson Mandela's jail cell on Robben Island
Nelson Mandela's jail cell

What about the tour? A little bit interesting. It was no Auschwitz. That's a bad description, but it's all I've got.

Back from the ferry, Deb Nolan was waiting for me. She asked if I had any dinner plans. Oh yeah, she was in Cape Town for a conference for the teaching of statistics. So tonight we went to a Malaysian/Indian/Cape Malay restaurant in the Bo-Kaap Muslim Malay section of town. It was a nice dinner.

I came back to my hostel, home of the over forty year-olds. I have three old guys in my dorm room. Why can't I substitute them for three cute Dutch doctors who want to rent a car with me for three weeks up to Jo'burg?

So after some time eight of us guys, led by the funny bartender Ishmael, went with one girl across town to some karaoke bar, except without the karaoke. Just some people dancing. It was a fun time anyway, and I didn't get mugged on the way home. The street kids are annoying/aggressive here. No hope, no future, no family, job, home, just lots of petrol and glue sniffing and pestering/mugging tourists and locals for sustenance. I bet their parents are dead of AIDS. They're probably HIV positive too, just twelve years old. Nothing to lose. A damn annoyance walking back from the 24 hour internet cafe.

I still don't know where to go after I climb Table Mountain. Shark cage diving and a wine vineyard tour are definitely on the agenda, but I've got to move quickly. Only three weeks or so left in Africa.

Eric Vance

PS What should I write about in my monthly email?

Cape Town D5.21.37
Tue, 16 Jul 2002 13:38:29 -0700 (PDT)

Dear Mom and Dad,

I'm still in Cape Town. It's been alternating too much to do and nothing to do. I guess I could talk about travel rythmn now. The rythmn is when everyday I'm seeing stuff or doing things or moving to the next place. When I'm busy like that I have time for email and writing in my journal. Now I have no rythmn and I haven't been writing.

Today I went up to Table Mountain for the second time. It snowed whilst I was on top! I also checked about plane tickets back to California. What a depressing $810 figure they presented me. So I've decided to swim back to America, going through the Panama Canal and stopping at some of the mid-Atlantic islands.

Snowing in
Cape Town
In the snow on Table Mountian, Cape Town

Today I also arranged to rent a car with a Dutch couple and a Brazilian guy. We're still waiting for the cheap car to come available. And the weather has been bad (like cold and rainy) but there's a break in it, which I'll hopefully be using tomorrow during my shark dive. I'm going to submerge myself in freezing water in a cage to try to get my shark photo. The boat operator attracts the Great Whites by chumming the water and luring them in with fish on ropes.

Yesterday I went on a Wine Tour in the Stellenbosch region. It was very informative in the morning. The day before was a rainy Sunday so I just went to the mall to watch a movie. Saw Star Wars then I met Ioanna, the German Rwandan Tribunal intern I traveled with around Zanzibar. And today I met the tall Dutch guy from the Victoria Falls booze cruise. Every other day I meet someone else unexpectedly.

Three days ago I hiked up Table Mountain with a Belgian couple fresh off the plane from Europe. They arrived at the hostel while I was going out. I asked if they wanted to hike Table Mountain with me (some people have said it was harder than climbing Kilimanjaro). "Now?" "Five minutes." "Okay."

So we climbed it but didn't see anything because it was cloudy. So today it wasn't cloudy. Then it was. Then it wasn't. Then it snowed. But I could still see the city and water below. Cape Town is similar to Rio. Very similar (green hills and mountain with cities and beaches and favellas/townships/slums around, nice areas, criminals).

I switched hostels today. I should write stuff about my old one and the difference with the new one just next door. My old one just had forty year-olds in the dorms. It was depressing. New one is very cool. Already I've met too many people.

I'm still feeling the effects of the all-you-can-eat Mexican buffet. I really don't need to eat so much. I keep saying I'm going to go on a diet before I go back and start school.

Eric Vance

Sharks W5.22.37
Wed, 17 Jul 2002 17:13:31 -0700 (PDT)

Dear Mom and Dad,

I'm leaving Cape Town tomorrow with a Dutch couple and a Brazilian guy. We're renting a car to drive up to Johannesburg, stopping along the way.

Very early this morning (they picked me up at 5:30AM) I went to Gansbaai for shark diving. I'd heard from a couple people that going into a cage in great white shark infested waters was a real thrill. I have a lion photo, warthog ones, giraffe, buffalo, wildebeest, gorilla, crocodile, hippos; I want a shark photo. I collect them, photos of animals with me in it.

An English father and son came with me out on the boat. The sea was rough. Lots of rainbows. We went to the inside of the seal-infested island to chum the waters for the great whites.

A four metre big one was attracted by Sammy 40, a rubber seal pup decoy. Then the shark tried to get the hunk of shark flesh on our line as we looked in awe and snapped a couple photos. It went away after a minute or less.

Great White Shark, Indian Ocean, South Africa

I dressed into a wet suit. The time I spent first in the bathroom and then in the cabin got me. I threw up over the side. The English father was throwing up too.

Nothing was happening and it was very cold and I felt woozy, so I lay down and slept. "Shark!" came the cry. I saw something moving near the bait so I put on my mask and snorkel and went to the shark cage. But then I had to put on a weight belt which was fitted backwards.

Great whites in the area

I got into the cage but the great white had already left the area.

I was tossed from side to side in the cage by the swells. The water was really cold, a nice Imac blue-green color. It seemed like I was in the water for a very long time, just shivering and getting thrown around. I'd grab on to the bars, then realize I'm leaving my hands in vulnerable places, and grap ahold of the inside railing. It was a little scary being inside the cage, but then again, not really since I had had to duck and hold on just to get totally below the water. The boat driver said using a diving regulator would scare away the sharks. Using just a snorkel was the better option.

In the shark cage

After twenty minutes I decided to come up. Just when I was almost out another shark was sighted so I jumped back in. My cage was poorly designed, so the metal box used for flotation blocked the best views of the shark. But I did see something shark-like, more than a shadow but less than Jaws 3D.

I stayed in another ten minutes (felt like half and hour). Got out to barf over the side of the boat again. Waited for nothing to happen. The other two tourists weren't even going into the cage because they were sick. Even the shark researching student who's been out almost every day for the past 3-4 weeks was sick. It was the first time she'd thrown up on a boat.

The skipper was making noises about going back in, so I jumped into the cage again. It felt like last minute fishing. 'Just one more cast.' I wanted to see a shark face to face. Nothing.

Sick again on the way back. The day was a disappointment. The company lied to me. The hostel people who sold me the trip misrepresented it. I saw a great white shark, and I even saw one from underwater, but it sucked. I don't like South Africa.

Fortunately I didn't feel sick on the boat besides the fifteen seconds before I'd throw up and while I was putting extra chum into the water. (Do sharks like yogurt, milk, wheetabix, and scrambled eggs?) The company was White Shark Adventures. I'm not sure they lied to me, but I feel as if they did, and the worst is that maybe I could have gotten a voucher to dive again even though we did see a shark. Just feels scammy and overpriced and disappointing.

Driving off tomorrow,
Eric Vance

On the road W5.23.37
Sun, 21 Jul 2002 10:34:52 -0700 (PDT)

Dear Mom and Dad,

I left Cape Town only three days ago. It seems much, much longer. Wait, it was four days ago. It's raining the same rain which was raining in Cape Town. And I just met a guy I met in Cape Town. But it still does seem a while ago because I've done lots of stuff since then.

I rented a car with a Dutch couple Wilfred and Marieka; and a Brazilian guy, Anderson, is along for the ride for a couple more days. I have an appendix in my journal, my "Appendix of Firsts and Superlatives". So, First time I've rented a car. If I thought about it I might be able to add another one, "First time I've driven a brand new car." I don't remember if I've done that before. So it doesn't make it into the appendix, but anyway, our rental car is a brand new (000118 km) four-door Mazda 323 with enough room for all our packs and stuff in the trunk. And we're only paying less than $15 a day. Then divide by four, and gas isn't very expensive, so why would anyone not rent a car in South Africa? Every time we pass a bus I say, "Suckers!"

There's got to be a downside with renting a car with three strangers, but so far we've done mostly everything I'd have done if I had 100% decision control.

First day:
We drove to Hermanus (where I saw the great whites) and watched whales. Then we drove on to Oudtshoorn. We might have seen stuff out the car windows too. Ate ostrich for dinner.

Second day:
Visited an ostrich farm. The best part was being kissed by Linda the friendly ostrich. I tried over and over and over to get the perfect self-taken ostrich photo, but I kept missing. I put corn into my mouth and Linda (who is taller than I) gave me kisses while I tried to take the photo. Anyway, I do have an ostrich photo now. I try to get them in the wild, but ostriches run too fast and whatever.

At an ostrich farm with Linda the Kissing Ostrich

Then we went to some caves. They were nice. Ate oysters and seafood back on the coast in Kynsna. And I bought an ostrich egg.

Third Day:

The equivalent of 24 chicken eggs.

I cooked the ostrich egg for breakfast. Tastes like chicken, just not quite as good. Then the four of us did a half-day adventure. Canoeing across the lagoon. Hiking through the forest to the Knysna Heads. Those are cool. Reminds so much of those big stone carvings at the end of some river in Lord of the Rings. In the movie it's at the end, those two rocks facing each other where the Fellowship gets all scattered by those bad orcs or something.

We abseiled twice down the 122 metre head, except we only went down 70 metres. Abseiling is rappelling, going backwards down a cliff with ropes. It's okay. I'd probably like it if I did it for a good reason, like I had to set up the ropes myself to descend a cliff to get somewhere. But just paying to rappel for the fun of it isn't that fun.

Abseiling in Knysna

The best part of the adventure half day was the quad biking. I don't know what we call them in the States. They're ATVs (All terrain vehicles) with four wheels. Like mini riding lawnmowers will a lot more power. It really was fun. The paths we took reminded me of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride in Disneyland, with little squiggly signs around each corner and warnings of elephant crossings and stuff.

We drove on after that. (And after a lunch of ostrich omelette. Had to throw away just a little bit. Probably should have eaten it just to be able to say we'd eaten an entire ostrich egg. Actually, Marieka should have eaten it. She didn't want eggs for lunch. Hey, Wilfred didn't eat any for breakfast. No wonder we didn't finish it.)

Fourth Day:
That was today. Wilfred and Marieka are back in Port Elizabeth. I drove here to Cintsa with Anderson. The Dutchies are flying to Durban and we'll pick them up in two days.

The Buccanneers retreat backpackers in Cintsa is really cool. The beach is nice and close and there's a river and lagoon and canoeing and lots of activities. But it was cloudy this afternoon. I couldn't find anyone to play with, so I invented Sandball, a game with bat and softball and sand dunes and different point boxes and time limits. It was fun.

Hopefully the sun will come out tomorrow and I'll go surfing with Anderson.

Eric Vance

Wed, 24 Jul 2002 13:05:23 -0700 (PDT)
To: "Katie Drager"

Dear Katie,

I'm traveling around South Africa in a rental car. It's always quick, quick, quick, but that's the way I like to travel. Today is the 24th. On the 21st I left the Dutch couple in P.E. (doesn't matter) and drove with the Brazilian Anderson up to Cintsa. Afternoon on the beach.

Then the 22nd (I'm just trying to reconstruct when what happened happened) we spent most of the day on the beach then drove all afternoon and night to Uzumbwe. (The road was crazy: countless pedestrians on the freeway, and countable dead animals--one dead horse, one donkey, one sheep, two dogs, one big feathered bird, and one cow which had to be helped off the road with a rib sticking out her side [and a smashed-up car just a bit further]).

Small towns, lots of pedestrians in the streets.

So we arrived at the backpackers at 10:30 PM. Anderson read in their folders of things to do about diving. Supposedly the Aiwal Shoals are in the top-10 dives in the world. Only 120 Rand ($12!) all-inclusive. We asked the girl at the hostel if it was possible to dive. "Sure." She said it was too late to book that night, but she'd get up early (5 AM) and call for us for the 7 AM dive. I asked how the visiblity was and everybody at the hostel assured us the visibility would be okay.

Anyway, anyway, I was concerned. So I asked the girl, Lisa, at what time we ought to get up and leave and all. Get up at 6, leave at 6:15 for the drive up the boat launch site. "And you'll be up at 5 to call them?" "Yes, yes. It's no problem. Do you want me to wake you?" "No, that's okay. We have alarms." The words, 'Should we wake you up?' were in my throat, but I didn't say them. Then I asked again if we should pay for the hostel and everything now. "No, you can do it in the morning before you leave. I'll be up."

So wake up 5:30 AM. Packed and ready 5:56. Lisa was nowhere. I looked around for her but didn't know where she was sleeping. Up til 6:25, just waiting around, I picked up a book lying on the pool table in the kitchen.

It was Graham Hancock's "Heaven's Mirror" the sequel to "Fingerprints of the Gods." I flipped through it and read about Yonaguni, Japan. I assume that's where you'll be going.

So the geologists agree that the last time the island (the western-most part of Japan) was above sea level was 9000 years ago. If the underwater city is actually an underwater city then it's a true mystery. There was no known civilization there (or anywhere) that long ago. No ruins are 9000 years old. It's an impossibility according to historians.

So Graham Hancock says its just another piece of evidence for what he's been talking about all this time. An ancient highly-advanced civilization was wiped out before, or just at the time of, the last ice age. However, their knowledge and ways and religion was passed on to other peoples (the Egyptians, Mayans, Easter Islanders etc.).

Whatever. So Hancock went to Yonaguni with two geologists or archaeologists sympathetic to his theories. The geologist dived there several times and after each dive was less and less convinced that the ruins were manmade. His final conclusion was that the "structures" could be natural and probably were. The Japanese professor who has studied Yonaguni so much and thinks it's evidence of an ancient civilization, pointed out six things which the geologist could not explain.

So the ruins might be ruins or they might be extraordinary natural formations. Jury's still out. I wish I could dive there with you.

Graham Hancock points out that Yonaguni is at 24' 37" (or something), which is the exact latitude of the Tropic of Cancer 9000 and 9900 years ago (as the tropics move up and down regularly periodically). So he says it's again evidence of these ancients who really, really, like the stars and astronomy and all.

Have fun,
Eric Vance

PS. Duh. So Anderson found Lisa asleep in some bungalow past the bananna trees. She apologized because her alarm clock and very late, watched two more movies after we had gone to bed... It's the ganja. Too much smoking. So Lisa called the dive company. They said they weren't running any trips for the next couple of days because the visibility is too poor. All the rain means the rivers are dumping too much dirt into the sea.

So I went to sleep again. Woked up, morning on the beach. Driving up to Durban on the 74 mile per hour freeway with men in the divide selling bags of golf balls. Four of them! Do they think I will go from 120 km/hour to pull over to the middle divide of the freeway to buy a bag of eight golf balls? Then on the side of the slow lane were women selling avocados. I really like when women sell stuff on the side of the roads, but only where buses are going to stop. South Africa has real southern Californian freeways, with women selling fruit by the side. Instead of signs warning about wetbacks crossing the freeways, South Africa should have hawker warning signs. It doesn't make sense, and then it does, because this is Africa.

PPS And we picked up the Dutch couple from the airport, dropped off Anderson at his Durban hostel, and drove to the Drakensburg mountains. Today I went to Lesotho. Tomorrow I will hike.

PPPS Thanks for being my journal for the past two days.

Lesotho W5.24.37
Wed, 24 Jul 2002 13:55:03 -0700 (PDT)

Dear Mom and Dad,

Today I went to Lesotho and I've already spent too much time checking out the Oakland A's and a little bit of Duke housing options and some other emails and I haven't even written about how I visited another country today.

I'm in the Drakensburgs in South Africa. It's a mountain range supposedly the inspiration for Tolkien's Misty Mountains. Tomorrow I'll be hiking around them. Today I took a tour to the Mountain kingdom of Lesotho where the Basothos live (and speak Sesotho). Does it really count as having been in a country? I was there for less than one day, but it definitely counts because I did so much.

1. Got my passport stamped.
Their immigration post is an RV trailer parked on the side of the dirt road with a sign saying "Customs". The guy stamped our passports twice, entry and exit at the same time.

2. Took a photo.
We visited a school. So the government doesn't give much money for schools, but the community decided they needed a primary school so they chipped in to build one (with significant help from Ireland, the Peace Corps, and others). Us tourists help pay for four of the six teachers.

Lesotho schoolhouse

The school was three buildings. One wasn't completed so the 1st graders sat on plastic chairs (donated by my backpackers hostel, the place organizing the Lesotho tour, bringing in the only tourists who would ever go there) outside. One building had three classes at once, except there were only two classes. One was on the side learning math (400 + 20 + 6 = 426). The middle class was learning English. The class on the other side of the building was empty. The principal said they were a bad class (all the bleacher seats/desks were empty) for not showing up today, but then a teacher said like Hey, some of them are over here.

Took a lot of photos of the children and showed them on my digital camera. Who else has experienced a field trip to a school? Our 4x4 with 8 backpackers pulled up to the school and provided the children with entertainment, but it was still our field trip.

3. Saw a sight.
One of the teachers somehow took time off to guide us through a village, along the river, to an overhang where were some San Bushmen rock paintings. The teacher/guide wasn't very good, but I didn't mind. I'm now at the point where I am the guide for every tour I go on. I've been in Africa 5 and a half months. I'm a qualified guide now.

So I pointed out to the teacher and the other backpackers (me, Wilfred, Marieka, a French couple, and three Danish cuties) the interesting features of the paintings. Bushmen men are born with, live with, and die with, a semi-erection. Have I written about this before? It's called Qwxai-Qwxqha (pronounce it with lots of clicking sounds). Their penis is always semi-erect, and it's always depicted on them in their rock paintings. Then there is steatopygia. That's the big bums the San have. They store fat and stuff in their butts. So the paintings are stick figures with erections and big butts.

Explaining the San Bushmen paintings

At this painting site were depictions of other people (with horns and spears) evidently doing harm to the San figures. The teacher guide said the paintings were like communication, like warnings to other San to be aware of the violent newcomers.

Another thing. The guide pointed out an area of the wall which had been all scratched up, and all the scratches on the extant paintings. Some local boys scratched and rubbed off most of the paintings in the past year because they were upset that the tourists didn't give them sweets anymore. This backpackers tour I guess used to let the tourists give the local boys sweets, then decided it wasn't a good idea to encourage begging, so they stopped it. The kids got miffed and tried to destroy the paintings and mostly succeeded. They even built a fire right there under the paintings.

And even another thing. I found some pot sherds and flakes from stone tools. The guide said they were everywhere. I pointed out to him and the rest of the group how one could tell what was just a random flake and what had been flaked off by a human to make a tool. I also pointed out the difference between a broken pot and just some compacted mud, but I couldn't be sure of all of that. All my time in museums sometimes pays off, but I hate pottery so it's still a weakness. I know about the tool flakes from my flint-knapping in Colorado.

4. Ate local food.
The driver/guide asked me to point out a house where we'd have some food. So I pointed to the round mud hut with thatched roof across the valley, next to the round tree (all the huts were the same). We drove there. Nobody was home. I picked another house with women sifting corn in front. We went. They didn't want to fix us any food, or serve us their leftovers because they thought we, as whities, needed special food. They were too embarassed.

Lesotho village

So we went to a house where they've given food to previous groups. Ate local food (the ubiquitous maize meal tasteless porridge) with tasty green spinach. And

5. Drank a beer.
We got to taste (as much as we wanted) the local drink of maize, sugar, and water. And the local sorghum beer. In every country in Africa I have had a (local) beer.

The witch doctors were too busy to do anything for us. We didn't do anything else. I did not buy anything, spend the night, visit two different places, send a postcard, change money, or take local transport (we saw five cars all day in Lesotho).

I did see lots of donkeys and Basotho ponies and hairy goats (where mohair comes from) and some sheep with fat tails and dogs which looked like hyenas or wild painted hunting dogs. What I saw really reminded me of the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia. Too many poor people working marginally productive fields. Same round, mud-thatch huts. Same donkeys. Same wearing of blankets and funky touks/balclavas/ski-hats. Similar poverty. Same barren, deforested brown mountain slopes. Nicer people. Not much hope. Too many people on too un-productive land. What can be done? Nothing. Stop having ten children per family.

Eric Vance

Pretoria D5.24.38
Sun, 4 Aug 2002 08:25:55 -0700 (PDT)

Dear Mom and Dad,

I am in Pretoria, my last stop in Africa. I hope so. I don't have a ticket home yet. That sucks.

Today I woke up after dreaming of leopards and antelopes when the others in the dorm got up early. My breakfast was some sprinkbok droewors (dried sausage jerky from a pretty antelope) and an apple. I was a little hungry, but was just waiting for Wilfred and Marieka to get up. They're the Dutch couple I rented a car with way back in Cape Town.

They really like sleeping in. I haven't let them in our travels since we were traveling efficiently (fast, the way I like my travels). I probably shouldn't have waited for them but I had nothing much better to do. It was a terrible morning. Nothing works. It's like five strikes against me when I'm used to having everything work perfectly.

I arrived in Pretoria, the administrative capital (where the president lives and his cabinet I guess) of South Africa, on Saturday night. We (I and the Dutch) talked up a big night of going out for dancing, celebrating the end of a successful tour around South Africa, but it's always always just talk. I've been out in Africa like never. I guess once in Zanzibar and a couple times in Cape Town. Uganda once too, and maybe some other disappointing place.

Yes, so today is not a way to end my travels. It started sucky and it still sucks. Last night stayed at the backpackers hostel doing nothing. I'm not going to go out by myself. In Australia I did it all the time. I didn't like it, but I did it, and it worked.

Depressing day in a depressing city.

So this morning, eating the leftovers in the bottom of my backpack for breakfast, I wrote some postcards. Cloudy cold day, dreary backpackers bar (at 9:30 AM), no other place to sit at the hostel. Inane television on. I knew Wilfred and Marieka would be sleeping in. They deserve it. They've been excellent traveling partners. They do everything I want to do, but think it's their idea. Before we started from Cape Town I told them I didn't want to go to Kruger National Park (for safari). I've been on safari safari safari and I've seen everything except cheetahs (I think they're extinct in the wild now, or just conspiring to hide so I'll have to come back to Africa, which wouldn't be a bad thing) so I didn't want to go on safari again. But they wanted to of course. When in Africa, see the animals.

Secretly I did want to go to Kruger. I like spotting animals in the wild. I'm very good at it too.

So I wasn't waiting for them to wake up. I wasn't waiting for anything (except for tomorrow, just waiting for tomorrow [Monday] to buy a plane ticket). I was just doing nothing. I hate doing nothing, unless it's at a nice place. The backpackers sucks. There are no backpackers in it, even though it's full. They've converted all but one of the dorms into doubles and "day rooms" for locals to have sex in. My dorm is an old garage outside, with rock mattresses, bad curtains, loud dormmates (cliquey group of young Brits studying somewhere in South Africa).

The owners are enlightened Afrikaaners which means they acknowledge that they're racist, but say they can't help it since that's what they learned in school. I'm probably exaggerating.

So what to do on a cloudy Sunday in Pretoria? Go to the museums of course. But that's what Wilfred and Marieka wanted to do as well, so I waited for them.

I felt all nervous and worried just bad. I need to buy a plane ticket home. I don't know if I can do that without a student card. I can't get a student card without a certain type of letter from the Duke Registrar. I've emailed them asking for the letter to be sent to my email. They're not equipped to do that. Now that I'm in Pretoria I can have them fax a certain letter (not sure if it will suffice) to my hostel. But weekends and time differences. It sucks. Too too much uncertainty.

One lesson I learned a long time back (in Turkey) was to eliminate uncertainty by assumption. Just assume the answer and work from there. It's just been that throughout Africa I haven't had much uncertainty. Everything has really worked out well. So I've forgotten how to deal with it, but now I remember and everything will be fine.

So the Dutch couple finally got up. Long time them eating breakfast. Today we just walked around (big ugly city center, cloudy, on an empty Sunday) and went to one museum.

I want to eat zebra and giraffe and other game which I'd never ever get to try in the States. The hostel owner said I could try it at the zoo. They have the best restaurant in Pretoria. Was he joking? Cruel joke or just bad info? Or maybe the zoo man on the phone didn't understand anything I was saying, asking about their restaurant. Anyway, nothing much happening today in Pretoria.

The last time I felt like this (slightly depressed, a side effect of Lariam [malaria medication {don't know how to spell prophyllaxis}]) was in Cape Town. Uncertainty there. Cloudy cold weather. Bad hostel. No luck with plane tickets (the travel agent told me to try again just before I wanted to leave as the airlines would release more student tickets). Things sucked back then. The solution was to move hostels. I did and everything went good again.

So tonight I'm going to leave Wilfred and Marieke and switch hostels. Tomorrow you'll all get an email totally different in tone and with some actual content.

Until tomorrow (when the sun'll come out),
Eric Vance

Kruger W5.25.38
Mon, 5 Aug 2002 06:37:59 -0700 (PDT)

Dear Mom and Dad,

It's a sunny day in Pretoria (one of South Africa's three capitals). I haven't done anything today except run around to travel agencies. I'm still waiting for confirmation on a waitlist application for a cheap fare for one of the legs of my (creative) flight back home. If everything works out I'll arrive in SFO Friday, August 9 at 14:10. That won't give me much time to pack before leaving for Duke on the 11th, but I'll get it done.

Yesterday I felt really bad because my trip is almost ending (my very last big travels ever?) and I was stuck doing nothing good. My other travels ended in a rush, like night bus night bus night bus trying to cram in every last sight-seeing experience possible. If I can confirm my flight and buy it, then I'll be able to cram in the Soweto township tour and the Pretoria Voortrekker Monument and museum before leaving.

A couple days ago I was in Kruger National Park. It was the highlight of my time in South Africa (though getting kisses from Linda on her farm in Oudtshoorn was very nice too).

I've been on safari safari safari so many times before. I had enough after the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. It doesn't get any better than that. But I still, somehow, found myself on more and more safaris and they were all cool. I came to South Africa not wanting to visit Kruger, but I knew somehow I would.

So the somehow was I was sharing a rental car with a Dutch couple. Of course they needed to go to Kruger. Since they agreed with everything else I wanted to do, I agreed to go to Kruger with them.

And Kruger was excellent. We drove around for three days in the park and saw just about everything. But no cheetahs. That's the one animal I wanted to see most in Africa (I've seen wild rhinos and lions in Asia) and it's the one animal (besides chimpanzee) I did not see.

But during the second of our three days we saw the Big Five, all in one day. That's rhino, elephant, lion, buffalo, and leopard. The leopard was at the end of the day, sleeping beside the road. We parked with the other four cars and watched as hyenas circled around the leopard. Suddenly the hyenas rushed the leopard and he jumped into his tree where his morning zebra kill was stashed. Then the leopard started eating the zebra while the hyenas fought and yipped for the few scraps dropped from the tree. And this was just beside the road only 10 metres from our car.

Leopard with dead zebra in tree, hyena circling below at sunset, Kruger NP

After the three days I decided I really like safaris, and I wanted to go back. But fortunately it looks as if I'll get my flight ticket so I won't have to stick around South Africa.

Until the next country,
Eric Vance

Flight home
Mon, 5 Aug 2002 07:49:51 -0700 (PDT)

Mom and Dad,

So my flight is still unconfirmed, but I am pretty sure it will go through. So I will go on a Soweto township tour tomorrow and have them drop me off at the airport where my ticket will be waiting (the travel agent guy is really good). Tomorrow Tuesday 17:00 I will fly from Jo'burg to Hong Kong. Then Friday 16:45 I will fly to SFO arriving 14:10 the same day. I'll be able to give you flight numbers from Hong Kong.

I was going to go to the Voortrekker Monument this afternoon after getting confirmation of my flight, but because of time differences it can't be confirmed until before tomorrow morning. But the township tour leaves at 8 AM. Still, I bought the ticket. It will be issued to me at the airport.

So after that I still had 45 minutes for the monument. But the taxi took 15 minutes to get here (if I had more time I'd have taken the bus) and he asked if I had directions. He didn't know where the Voortrekker Monument was. You can see it on top of its hill from many parts of the city. I haven't seen it yet, though. Anyway, I decided to skip it. I didn't have enough time. Also I had to cancel a reservation for a flight from Jo'burg to JFK (my second option). I thought about skipping the township tour. Still could.

That's it,
Eric Vance

Township Tour D5.25.39
Wed, 7 Aug 2002 21:08:49 -0700 (PDT)

Dear Mom and Dad,

So two days ago, or yesterday (Tuesday Aug 6), I went on a Township tour of Soweto. Everything was still complicated with my ticket. Like, I hadn't bought one yet, but I was planning to leave that day. My waitlist application for the cheaper airfare was supposed to have been confirmed before I left for the tour from Pretoria. I still figured it would work out since I'm lucky with transportation. I wanted to fly Tuesday, two day layover, arrive in California on Friday.

I put my backpack into the tour minivan and used the guide's cell phone to communicate with my travel agent during the day.

So the townships. They're supposed to be something compulsory for tourists. 'See the real Africa...Meet the real Africans...' Townships are black slums outside of white cities in South Africa. Nowadays the cities aren't so white, and there are more and more slums. Before (under apartheid) blacks could live in the townships only if they had a job. They weren't cities but temporary houses for temporary workers.

(The tour sucked. Whatever info I say in this email is just from my prior knowledge.)

Soweto (SOuthWEst TOwnship) is just outside of Johannesburg, the place for blacks during the White South Africa. In 1976 there was a famous riot/protest in which black students got shot by the police. The Israelis with their advanced weapons fought back against the blacks and their stone-throwing. Innocent people were killed. Hooligans were killed. Something I'd never heard about until I came to Africa. Before my time I guess (why did I never learn anything about Africa in school?).

Soweto shack

I'm starting to fade, very sleepy, but must finish with the emails, so on the tour my group of nine tourists walked around a slum. Our guide for that part was the elected youth president of the shanty-town community (they all built the houses themselves from sheet metal, particle board and whatever else building materials. No electricity so they have to run their TVs and stereo systems off of car batteries. Toilets are porta-potties emptied three times a week by the gov'ment.) Towards the end of that short tour I asked the president (trying to be positive) if he thought things would get better in South Africa. Resounding "Yes." So then I asked what one solution to their (black township folks) problems would be. I had to rephrase a number of times since he didn't understand the word "solution". But his answer, "We just need more support. Just we get more support and money from the government." "So you think the government will solve your problems?" "Yes."

Up in the Drakensburgs near Lesotho I passed rows and rows of block houses built by the government for the slum dwellers across the road. You pay R300 ($30) and you own the new house. Pretty good deal.

Government built houses

We also drove around the nice areas of the townships like where Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu lived. Not much else on the tour besides the Soweto 1976 museum. Oh yeah, while being toured around the Catholic church (largest Catholic church in Africa or the southern hemisphere or something) I got interrupted by our guide who had my travel agent on the line.

My ticket got confirmed, but for two days earlier than I wanted. We probably did some other stuff in the townships and then they dropped me off at the airport and I left South Africa.

I could have missed the tour. It wasn't special or anything. In Mali I lived with the people, so walking around like a stupid tourist where the poor people live was dumb. South African townships (oh, the horror!) are the rest of Africa's regular cities. The rest of Africa is just one big township, so I don't know why all us tourists pay to be led into just another one. I guess my guide wasn't so good. He does the tour every day. He was nice, but it wasn't any sort of experience to write home about.

One more email,
Eric Vance

Hong Kong W5.26.39
Wed, 7 Aug 2002 21:55:51 -0700 (PDT)

Dear Mom and Dad,

I'm really very tired and sleepy, but gotta use free internet WEP (whenever possible). So I went straight from a Jo'burg Soweto township tour to the airport to my overnight flight to Hong Kong. I tried to sleep for three hours. The rest of the time I watched movies.

The girl at the tourist info office at the Hong Kong airport said I should just go upstairs and wait for my flight. She said there was an observation deck for watching planes land and take-off.


I wanted two days layover in Hong Kong but only got four hours. Going out of and into immigration took an hour. The train to and from the Central City center was another hour. Getting lost in the maze of walkways and freeways and skyscrapers was more time. Waiting in the airport (for half an hour rather than say 72 hours if I hadn't played it safe and lost) more time. Still, I had one quality hour in Hong Kong.

Central Business District, Hong Kong

Did my McDonald's comparison. Big Macs are cheaper than in the States, more expensive than South Africa (Morocco was the only other African country with a McDonalds I noticed).

I visited a tiny urban park, just some plants and a waterway (stream) surrounded by concrete. The sign on the 2-inch deep stream (2 feet wide) said "No Paddling".

I was amazed at first impression with Hong Kong's network of pedestrian skyways through the skyscrapers. It was disappointing, though, to see so many people walking rather than using their hovercrafts or their PTBs (personal transit bubbles) to get from A to B. The outdoor escalator was a nice touch. They say it's the longest escalator in the world, 800m long, hauling people uphill (or zipping them downhill for work, mornings only), but it's not. They're just multiple segments of ordinary slow escalators under overhangs, but still outside. First time I've ridden an escalator outside.

I talked to two locals. First was a woman from the pastry shop who gave me directions to the escalator, then rode with me for a couple stops (the segments stop and you must walk to the next one). The second local I talked with advised me on what to order for lunch. I had picked just some random, busy counter restaurant. I'll eat anything, so I could have just pointed at something on the menu, but I copped out and did the "I'll have what she's having".

I asked for chopsticks which they found slightly amusing. Eating local style was a little difficult. Chopsticks are normal, but the use of the spoon with the left hand was hard. Push rice and stuff with chopsticks (in right hand) into spoon and eat with left. I could barely do it. I haven't eaten with my left hand in all of Africa. That would be gross and rude. But I guess it's okay in China. Took me a while to get the hang of it.

It started to rain a little, but it didn't matter. There are so many overhangs and skycrapers, plus I was already so wet from the heat and humidity. It's summer again!

Hong Kong pedestrian overpass

I tried to order some egg tarts, but the girl could only sell four of this type for HK$5 or three of the other type for HK$5. I wanted one of each. She couldn't do it. 'Okay, I'll take two of these (the cheapies) and one of those, for 5$.' 'No sorry. Too complicated for the balance.' Money was no object, but I certainly didn't want to buy 4 of these and 3 of those. I'm trying to start on a diet. I tried again, but no deal. She wouldn't even take HK$5 for one of each. It was funny.

So I went back to my first pastry shop and ordered another two puff fried layered egg batter pastries with sugar sprinkles. They're my favorite. The egg yolk bean paste ball was good. So was red bean sesame disc cake. All Chinese pastries are good. Oh, the bean caramel jelly-sicle I had on the street wasn't the best, but I ate it anyway.

I would have liked to have been able to spend more time in Hong Kong, but I know someday I will be back. The small bit I saw was mostly just a futuristic Chinatown USA. It did make me want to explore China and Japan if only to try the egg batter layer puff sugar pastries again.

Oh yeah. Two consecutive overnight flights and I'm back in Modesto. My travels are over. I think I'll come up with some African conclusions plus two more of those monthly emails. Anybody coming to my Welcome Home/Farewell to Duke party this Saturday?

Eric Vance

South Africa monthly email
Spain and Hong Kong photos

West Africa I: M email , D&W , Photos
West Africa II: M email , D&W , Photos
Ethiopia: Both M&W emails , Photos
East Africa: M email , D&W , Photos
5th Month: M email , D&W , Photos
South Africa: M email , D&W , Photos

Africa page
Duke page

Last modified December 31, 2002.
Copyright 2002-2003 Eric Vance. All rights reserved.