Monday, January 4, 2010


I had an amazing, very memorable, past few weeks in South Africa. I got through finals fine and then I think it was on everyone’s mind to spend as much time as possible together and have lots of fun before we said goodbye. We sure did. First, we celebrated an American Thanksgiving as American as we could. Of course, the holiday was for everyone, not just Americans; we wanted to spread the joy. We had to make a few adjustments to tradition and improvise a bit, but after the mishaps (electricity going out in the middle of cooking, etc.) and running around for a couple days, it was a success. I missed dinner at home, but I may never have another Thanksgiving dinner outside in the sun again.

One of the most memorable nights I had, right before everyone started leaving, we had a huge party at a friend’s place on the beach. Pretty much everyone I knew was there. It was a perfect way to get to say goodbye to so many people; but of course that was also the worst part of the night. Later, we made a fire on the beach and a few of us stayed out there all night and watched the sun rise over the Indian Ocean. Around 6 a.m. we left the beach, stopped to get fast food breakfast, and laughed the whole way home. I can’t think of a better way to have spent one of my final days with everyone in PE. We only slept a couple hours that morning because we had to get up to say goodbye to several people leaving that day. I’ve never had to say so many goodbyes! They’re terrible. Five months is just long enough to figure out who you really like and want to be closer with and to start getting closer with them, but then…time’s up. Schwupp-di-wupps—that’s German for time flies.

I left Port Elizabeth on December 1st. I took a horrific eight hour bus ride up the coast to Mthatha. From there, a shuttle picked me and a group of other people up and brought us to the Coffee Shack in Coffee Bay. I don’t know the distance between Mthatha and Coffee Bay but it took about an hour and a half because of the potholes in the road. I later learned that this road was nothin’ compared to ones we would come across later. I intended to stay in Coffee Bay the entire three weeks I had until I left for the States, but some friends came up the following day to stay a couple nights before moving on farther up the coast and then back down again. I don’t know why I didn’t go with them in the first place, but once they were there I couldn’t say goodbye and stay in Coffee Bay by myself for three weeks. It had also been raining since I left PE, which didn’t help the idea of being by myself for so long sound any better. So I left with them!

I don’t regret that choice for a second. I got to see more of South Africa and had a great time with them. We stayed at the Coffee Shack for two more nights then attempted to drive to Durban. But thanks to Eurocar and their stupid cars and the neglected roads of SA, it was an attempt failed. When we finally got off the long, dirt, potholed road that leads in and out of Coffee Bay, we stopped at a gas station in Mthatha. We had two cars with us--both rentals; one pretty new KIA rented from Eurocar and one VW Citi Golf that we had to get out of so it could make it up hills (about every other car in South Africa is an old, white Citi Golf). At the gas station, we turned off the car, got out, tossed the keys on the seat, and closed the door while we filled up the tank. The KIA automatically locked the doors with the keys inside. So we had to get a guy who could break in. Finding him and getting back in the car of course took some time. But eventually we were back on the road. Some idiot gave us the advice to take a different route than the main highway we planned on taking. And we thought the road to Coffee Bay was bad. First, we popped a tire in a pothole in the KIA. The boys changed it with the spare (which was under all our luggage and a surfboard that was strategically placed down the center of the car) pretty quickly and with no problems. About fifty kilometers down the road, hit another pothole, this time popping two tires. It’s not that our driver was aiming for them (so he says!) but by this time it was dark and foggy and raining and the potholes were filled with water so they just looked like puddles. And this was the mother of all potholes. So we had to call someone for three new tires, but Eurocar ended up sending us a whole new car. Have I explained African time? It means they’ll do it whenever they want and they’ll take their time doing it. If they say one hour, it'll be three to six. We sat in cold cars in the middle of who-knows-where for four hours. We were supposed to get to Durban by dinner time and if we had continued, wouldn’t have made it until the middle of the night so we stayed at a backpackers in Port Edward. We had told the man over the phone our story and asked if we could get something to eat. We didn’t get there until past midnight, but when we walked in he had an amazing meal ready for us. The next morning we found out it was also one of the most expensive meals we had had in SA, but it was so good and so needed at the time we didn’t care. We also didn’t care about the chicken on the chair back at our eating table or the geckos on the walls and ceilings. It had been a long day.

We woke up early the next day to get one of our friends to the Durban airport. We spent a few days in Durban, where the second to largest population of Indians live, after India. The majority of the population is Zulu, but many Indians as well, and few Xhosa and Whites. We had one day of sun until the rain moved us off the beach—it was still raining; not hard but at least a constant fog and mist, if not more, until this morning. Before leaving Durban we said goodbye to two more friends and the group was down to five in one car. The diversity and Indian food was great in Durban, but it was time to move on back down south.

We started a long day in the car to Bulungula, a backpackers far far away from anything besides Xhosa villages. The drive was long, but then we finally reached Mthatha where we turned off the main paved road. The potholes were no longer the primary problem. It was a dirt, or should I say mud, road. We slipped and slid down the road until we got stuck. A few of us stood barefoot in the mud outside so there was less weight in the car. When we were trying to get out of the mud, the shuttle that picks people up in Mthatha to bring them to Bulungula came by. (We would have done this but there is no where safe to leave the car there). A couple people pushed the car and ended up getting the car out. Three of us got in the shuttle—a big four wheel drive with a back that sat ten people—while the other two drove the car to where we could park it and take the shuttle the rest of the way. The little Citi Golf continued to slide the rest of the way. At one point the shuttle driver tied the Citi Golf to the truck by rope and pulled it through a bad part. And this portion of the trip is the part that the backpacker tells people they can travel on their own if they have four wheel drive. I wouldn’t recommend it. But compared to what was coming up…! These can’t even be regarded as roads. The last leg of the trip took two hours. In the back of the truck we had to be buckled in just to keep from being thrown around in the back and we still held on to our seats and each other. Had it been day time, like it was when we left Bulungula, some of us would have had our eyes closed shut as to not want to see what was coming up. If we were going to tip over I wanted it to be a surprise. After eleven hours of driving that day, we made it. We had a much needed drink, dinner, and went to bed. The next day we saw how beautiful the place was. The ocean was right out the front and behind was rolling hills dotted with huts and cows. Cows, goats, chickens, donkeys, and horses roamed around the backpackers. We had another short day of sun and lied on the beach near a dozen bulls also relaxing in the sand. This place was eco-friendly with compost toilets, rocket showers (a multi-step process to light paraffin to get a hot shower for seven minutes), and the water that comes out of the faucets and showers (for everything besides cooking and drinking) was runoff water—brown water. We had a few good days there before making the same trip down those “roads.” It was equally as terrifying the second time—actually, even more so because it was light out so we could see what was going on. I shut my eyes and held on tight. From there we went back to Coffee Bay for a couple days.

On the first night I realized that I had the option of staying there for the remainder of the time. I had already paid a deposit so I had some of that left and I already had the bus ticket from there to PE on the 20th. If I continued on with everyone, I would have had to spend a week in PE. I don’t know what I would have done there for a week. And staying meant saying bye to some people just a couple days earlier than if I went with them. So I decided to stay. It was a hard decision to make just because saying bye to them any earlier than necessary didn’t feel right. It was a tearful goodbye and I missed them and wish they could have stayed as well. I have made myself feel better about all of those goodbyes by telling myself that it’s not for good. I definitely want to take a trip with stops in Norway and Germany. I’m sure it won’t be for a couple of years, but it’ll happen. And I know some friends plan to come to the States as well and of course us Americans can visit each other. I just have to keep looking forward to these reunions.

What’s both good and bad about staying in backpackers, especially by yourself, is that you meet people and make friends, but being the one staying longer than most others, they come and go while you stay put. Meeting people and then saying goodbye is much more difficult than keeping to yourself and not having to bother with all that, however, it’s also much less fun. I met a few great people at the Coffee Shack; ones I wish were there the entire time I was. At least I was used to goodbyes.

I’ve been home for a couple weeks now. It’s been wonderful seeing everyone again and just being at home. I missed everyone so much! Now I’m just relaxing a lot and spending time with my much missed and loved ones. I’m also looking for a part-time job and hope to be working soon. Other than that, I have nothing to do until school starts the 19th—my last semester of college…For now anyways.

What has been hardest to adjust to is the general, everyday, way of life. For the five and a half months I was there and especially the last three weeks of it, I lived like you would expect someone to live on the beach in rural Africa. I stopped using hair conditioner or doing much of anything else with my hair besides washing it. I wore a bathing suit in replace of underwear and a bra. I hardly ever wore shoes. Why? It just felt right. (Just like it feels right to not do those things here.) We hiked barefoot, we danced in the rain to African drums; it was magical.

I learned so much in Africa. I probably learned the most just by meeting all the people I did. Also, seeing how others live, whether it’s in a comparably similar way as yourself, or dramatically different, such as the lives of those living in townships or rural villages, it opens your eyes. Also eye-opening was the epiphany I had after starting at the day care. That country’s problems are much bigger than me and I have to leave them in the hands of a much bigger power. I went there thinking that if I could help just one person, then I’ve done something worthwhile. I believed that to be the case anytime, anywhere. And I still believe that, but now the difference is that I’ve realized that is sometimes the only way to make a difference; in very small ways. I will continue volunteering for those less fortunate, but I will focus my efforts in America where I have the time to do more.

I will never forget my time in Africa or the lessons I learned or the friends I made. And I want to thank everyone who made it possible; who gave me money, wrote letters, supported me, missed me, and love me. Love you too.