Monday, November 15, 2010

Meandering Briefly

A lot has happened since my last post! I've been all over the place, but still have only seen a fraction of whats out here in Europe. Almost all of my traveling has been by hitch hiking and walking, with the occasional city bus.

I had a beautiful walk through the woods north west of Frankfurt. Emerging two days later on the autobahn I promptly got a ride right to Halle where I got to reconnect with a former camper from about 6 years ago. I had a great time with him and then rode with him to his home in Brussels. There I spent 3 nights, one with him and his father, and then two nights with a couchsurfer.

A long and crazy day hitch hiking later I found myself sleeping under my tarp behind a shrub next to a dike near a canal running by the city of Nijmegen in the Netherlands! Three days walking and camping along the river, canals, wetlands, and forests along the border of the Netherlands and Germany and I was in the city of Doetinchem.

Three weeks as part of my friend's family. Lots of great time spent with good company. A quick side trip to Amsterdam. Easily could have spent the rest of my trip in Doetinchem and loved it. Time flies.

Two attempts later, one long and silent car ride with a nice Polish man who spoke no english, rudely interrupted briefly by German border police looking for drugs, I ended up in Berlin. Two nights and one day spent exploring Berlin and getting to know another couchsurfer. Only four couch surfing experiences in my 5 months traveling so far. All great experiences, but probably not too much more in the near future either. Too much planning required.

Turning south for the winter I got a ride with a business man in a nice Audi. 200 km/hr on the Autobahn makes for a quick trip to Nuremburg. Then I got my first ride with a woman who was alone in a car. Just a short one to a petrol station on the Autobahn, but still a first. A friendly Russian couple on a business trip took me the rest of the way into Prague. Two nights in the old beautiful city. One in a hostel, one with some people from New Zealand.

Two days of seemingly going in circles before I made it to Bratislava, Slovakia. Got to see Jihlava in the Cech Republic while hanging out with a Cech hitchhiker on his way to Brno. Interesting side trip. Lots of time spent at a gas station, sundays are slow. Bratislava is very nice. Not much time for Slovakia, moving on tomorrow. Either Vienna or Budapest.

Brief post, I'll fill in the details later!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Castles and Trucks

I'm using the internet in a truck on the Autobahn and I can see three castles at the moment! Germany is awesome. On my way to Halle.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Looking for Thoughts

I'm not really sure what to write about, so i guess i'll just start writing...

There's a lot of history in Europe. Every town has been around for at least twice the amount of time as any place in America. Down every street you can find old buildings with little shops, bakeries, butchers, and restaurants squeezed together. The cobbled streets wind and bend through narrow alleys. Ruoen in particular was filled with old blocks where the buildings all seemed a bit askew and sagged out over the tiny street. Church steeples and cathedral towers pierce the sky instead of high rises and sky scrappers. The cities often have rather unimpressive skylines compared to the modern american metropolis, but the view of a modest river town with a massive cathedral was enough to inspire thousands of impressionist paintings (and they never tired of painting the same scene either).

You don't find gigantic warehouse stores as frequently as you do in the US. Shopping for food is more often done in smaller grocery stores, corner stores, bakeries, butchers, and open air markets. You can usually find what you need, but they often are only open until 8pm, and if it's sunday outside the UK, good luck finding anything.

I spent just under 3 weeks in France, a more abridged trip than some of the other places. I had about 2 days in Ruoen and then about 2 weeks in Paris. Paris is certainly nice, lots of history, old buildings, plenty to see, and always something going on. I didn't stay in Paris that long because I really liked the city or wanted to see more. I'm not really a city person, and Paris is a city person's city. My reason for staying was simply to spend time with a good friend, and to that extent I really enjoyed Paris. The city is pretty dirty. The streets and sidewalks are littered with discarded cigarettes and dog poop (yea watch where you step in Paris). My impression of Paris is that is a rather gray city. While London was quite green, Paris is mostly concrete and stone. Sure the buildings and monuments are more impressive, and they have some nice gardens scattered here and there. Of course this impression isn't helped by the fact that it was mostly gray and drizzly while there.

For my exit I took a commuter train out to Euro Disneyland. An odd phenomenon where there were more english signs than french and, of course, my old friend Mickey Mouse. I didn't actually spend anytime in Euro Disneyland but instead took a bus a couple of stops and then a short walk to the nearest toll booth on the main road going east from Paris. From here I pulled out some cardboard signs and tried to make my way to Germany. My ride came from a fellow from the UK who had pulled off at the toll parking lot to refill his transmission fluid. He was on his way to Romania (and perhaps then on to Greece, he hadn't decided) and was going right by Frankfurt. Good company and a ride to Frankfurt, can't ask for any more than that! He dropped me off at the airport where I got in touch with a friend from camp who lived in Frankfurt. Fortunately he was up at midnight and lived pretty close to the airport.

Since then I've been enjoying some beautiful autumn weather in Germany and soaking in the german culture through schnitzel, donner kabobs, chiliwurts, and chocolates. There are lots of traditional little towns tucked in the hills and woods around frankfurt. Once again it's been great to hang out with a friend as well. Soon I'll be moving on towards Berlin, and hopefully seeing a couple other friends in the next few weeks.

It's nice to have a mix of time with friends and time alone. Time with friends is always fun. Time alone forces you to meet new people, branch out, and in many cases see or do things you may not otherwise. Sometimes it can get a bit lonely, and there's always an extra level of uncertainty (especially if you don't know the language at all). It's been nice to spend time in just one place as well. While traveling your always packing up, moving, and settling down temporarily again. It can be tiring, but at the same time I get a wonderful feeling when I get back out on the road. Sometimes you get quite comfortable where you are and its hard to move on. But it's great once you stop worrying and just go.

In my travels I try as much as possible to take things as they come and not worry about the future. There so much to worry about: where to go, how to get here, where I'll stay, is it safe, what to eat, do I still have enough money, etc. Those are things people worry about all the time, basically will their needs be met? Of course we often don't even know exactly what we need. On top of that we often think we know how they should be met. I've found it's our worries or our view of how things should be blinds us from other opportunities.

Well thats enough for now, heading out tomorrow, need to get some sleep.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Around and back

It`s been a while and I`m now in France! The keyboards here are quite different from in the USA, so I appologize in advance for mistakes and just shorter posts in general.

My month in the UK was great! I had a lot more flexibility in my travels since distances are smaller than South Africa and there are lots of buses and trains everywhere. I also managed to hitchhike a few times.

After Bristol I spent a night in Bath with my friend, Louis, and his family. There are canals all around the UK with footpaths along them. On a whim I decided to take one from outside Bath heading east. I spent an evening walking, followed by a night under my tarp next to a corn field. The next morning I walked to the town of Deviez where a road runs straight south towards stonehenge. I didnt find a great spot to hitchhike, but got lucky and had a ride within a few minutes of putting out the thumb.

Fortunately or not, Stonehenge is right on an intersection of major roads. This made it easy to get to, but it kind of takes away from the magic of the place when the weekend trafic to cornwall is creeping by. Stonehenge itself is impressive and set in a beautiful countryside. Unfortunately, in addition to the major road trafic, theres also bus loads of tourists. It was worth going though.

Since I got to stonehenge so early I decided to try my luck and head north past devizes to the small town of ashbury. Here there is another series of circles of stones and mounds. The town is actually built inside the circle and you can walk around freely and touch the stones (unlike stonehenge). The stones themselves arent as large or well preserved, but its almost cooler than stonehenge (and more or less empty). If you happen to be heading to stonehenge you should definitely go here as well.

While making my sign at stonehenge some Australians asked me where I was heading. They decided they could take me and so the 4 of us crammed into their little car, luggage on the laps, and drove up to ashbury. They had never heard of ashbury (which is true for most people, even in the UK) and so we spent sometime walking around the stones. Originally this was where I was going to stop and spent the night. It turned out the aussies were heading to Cardiff that night (just west of bristol) and so I continued riding with them all the way to Louis`s place. These were just the first of several friendly aussies I met while travelling around the UK.

Back in Bristol I decided I needed to bus straight north. Louis was getting off work in a couple weeks time and wanted to go to France at that time. So rather than slowly work my way north I just bused all the way to Carlisle with a brief stop in Manchester. Along the way I stayed with the cousin of a friend of Louis in Manchester (not as bizzare as it sounds, I had met everyone invovled in the connection before in London) and then with a nice young family in Carlisle who I found through couchsurfing.

The north of the UK is known as being the industrial center and not known for being especially nice (especially not the weather), but I found Manchester to be quite nice. Its an interesting mix of old and modern buildings with a fairly lively and cosmopolitan feel to it. There were some pretty nice museums as well. I quite enjoyed the industrial museum with their collection of old steam locomotives. Carlisle was also really nice and was home to a mideval castle.

My main reason for shooting up to Carlisle was to see Hadrians Wall. I learned while at stonehenge that there is a path that follow the entire lenght of where the wall used to be. Carlisle falls somewhere near the western end of the wall. From here I set out east towards Newcastle along the Hardians Wall Path. For the entire first afternoon and part of the next morning there isnt actually any wall to see. Instead you get picturesque pasture land and english countryside, complete with cows and lots and lots of sheep. And their poop everywhere ofcourse. The path actually goes through the pastures and fields. England has odd property laws, the queen actually owns all the land and people are just leasing it for a thousand years or something like that. Whatever it is, everywhere you go in the UK you will find public right of ways crossing through fields and sometimes along backyards.

The second and third days of walk were very nice. The wall follows a fault line and there are these large crags that it is perched on. A lot of the wall is still here on these stretches and there are also some archelogical sites at some of the forts along the way. From the tops of the crags you can look out on miles and miles of pastures and tiny villages and see the wall stretching off in the distance. I would definitely recommend walking at least a small portion of the wall (lots of people take buses or drive and take little day hikes).

At night I would find a place to put up my tarp and then curl up in my sleeping bag as the temperature dropped. I slept in a variety of places, in little groves and right next to sections of the wall. I had mostly great weather, some rainy stetches, but I managed to stay mostly dry. My meals consisted of penut butter and honey sandwhiches and granola. Autumn was farther along in the north. The tree were just starting to change and the nights were becoming quite cold.

About 20 miles from Newcastle I came to the A68 which runs north to Edinburgh. I hitched, once again very successfully, and was in Edinburgh shortly after 1pm. My description of my time in scotland is going to be as brief as my time there was. Edinburgh is a beautiful old city, spent a night, hiked a little peak nearby early the next morning, and then was on a bus to Glencoe that afternoon. I wanted to get up further into Scotland and spent a couple days before heading south and Glencoe was a name someone mentioned while I was hiking Hadrians Wall.

Scotland is very different physically from the rest of england. Glencoe was in a beautiful area, right on a loch and squeezed between large, steep, rocky peaks. The ground in Scotland is like a sponge, everywhere is wet and it rains a lot. I got the last bed in the local hostel and then spent the next two days hiking and biking around the area. I had a nice mix of classic rainy scotland and beautiful, clear, sunny weather. Somehow I always managed to get pretty wet though. I was very grateful to not have to worry about setting up a tarp during that time.

After two short days in Scotland it was straight south overnight, a nice day in London, and then an overnight ferry to France! Im in Paris now staying with another friend, Mathieu. Ill save France for another post.

Everywhere I went in the UK I learned about 5 other things that I would like to go see. I saw a lot, but I would love to go back. Especially Scotland, I just barely scratched the surface there. I also never made it to Cornwall! Anyways, cant see it all, Ill just have to return.

Monday, September 6, 2010

UK Brief

I've been in the UK for over a week now and enjoying it thoroughly. I spent a few days exploring London and then met up with a friend I met in the Caribbean. Appropriately we went to the Notting Hill Carnival - a big Caribbean festival held in London, one of the biggest street festivals in the world. Then we traveled back to Bristol where he lives. I've spent about a week in Bristol now. Its a beautiful city placed along an estuary. It's very hilly, with lots of old buildings, colorful rows of town houses, and parks. The place isn't a big tourist attraction, but is very nice and is home to a big hot air balloon festival and a kite festival (that happened just the other day). The city is also actively trying to reduce its carbon footprint by building bike paths, encouraging eco-friendly building, and various other initiatives. It's been fun hanging out here. This week I might get down to Cornwall if the weather holds up, then i'll be making my way north towards Scotland.

Check out some more new photos:
Outeniqua Forest Adventure - Days 3 & 4 - Windmeulnek Hut

Outeniqua Forest Adventure - Day 5 - Journey Out

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Out of Africa

I've had several people ask me what I'd tell people about South Africa after my time there, would I recommend them going there, what stood out the most, etc. It's not a straight forward answer and it's hard to put into words.

South Africa, and Africa in general, wasn't a place I'd been dying to go to. In fact I hadn't really thought about going there anytime soon. Sure someday I wanted to, but what most people go to Africa for, seeing lions and elephants, wasn't high on my list of things to do. It was really the World Cup that got me down there. When I would tell people I was going to South Africa most would ask if it was to go on a safari. I'd tell them it was for the World Cup, to which many would respond, 'oh right, what sport is that for again?' Even going in to the trip I had no clue what I'd do after the World Cup. I figured I'd see a lot of the country while travelling with my friends and then decide where to go based on that. And more or less thats what I did.

First off, my time in South Africa was amazing. It's a beautiful and diverse country. Each part of the land has something different to offer. But it is a long way and an expensive plane ticket from the States. If you want to see impressive mountains you won't find anything rivalling the Rockies in South Africa. Warm sandy beaches with fewer sharks can be found much closer along the Gulf or in the Caribbean. If you want to tour some wine lands there's always Napa valley, and even France is cheaper to fly to. But South Africa is more than just a place to see and some things to do.

There's an incredible diversity as you travel across the country, and each place has a different vibe that eludes description. It can be felt in the earth, heard in the trees, and seen in the wildlife. My travels have been defined more by the people I've met than by the places I've seen and the things I've done. And the people I met in South Africa we're amazing, hospitable, friendly, and open. To give you a sense, I basically didn't pay for lodging since travelling with 3 other friends in June. Sure a month of that was on a farm, but in general people were very welcoming. It's interesting how you can know one person for months and just be acquaintances and spend less than a day with another person and become quite close. There were many such people that I encountered on my journey.

Should you go to South Africa? Yes, I think so. It's a country that we rarely hear about, but when we do it's only the worst things (which is true of news in general). You'll find South Africa is different, it's beautiful, it's diverse, sure there are problems, but the people are wonderful, and there's lots to do and see! I couldn't tell you where to go or what to do though. There's so much in the country so that everyone's experience will be different. Unless you have 3 months to wander around you really need to pick and chose where you'll go and what you'll do.

So would I return? I definitely think so. I'd do it differently though. South Africa is a big country and, like America, it's best enjoyed with the freedom of a car. I did alright busing around from region to region, but then mostly relied on my feet or my hosts to get places locally. I would also make sure to take an extended trip into the bush. I had a little self-guided day safari with friends and saw lots of animals, but never really got the complete experience of living in the bush. I would go a different time of year, our summer months are their winter months. Winter is fairly mild there, but can still be quite cold and, depending on where you are, wet. The plus side to going in their winter is that it's definitely less crowded.

I wouldn't say I fell in love with Africa, but it's perked my interest a lot. It's a massive continent and I've just seen the southern tip. I now have a lingering curiosity to see more. This trip is a first in terms of my wanderings, and I'm learning a lot as I go.

Added lots more picture:

Farm 119
Outeniqua Forest Adventure - Day 1
Outeniqua Forest Adventure - Day 2

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Farm, Forest, Freeway, Future Flight

I ended my wonderful stay at Farm 119 by venturing off into the Outeniqua forest on the other side of the fence. The forest is home to wild baboons, stealthy leopards, and the infamous knysna elephants. The elephants of this forest are born with a hatred and fear of humans because of a long history. They're rarely seen or heard (though their poop is quite common) and its usually better off that way. All that said, the forests around Knysna are common places for hikers as well as a major logging site in South Africa. I was more concerned with getting lost than having an encounter with any of the creatures of the forest.

I started off an hour before noon. It was great to be off again and on my own. The forests are beautiful, filled with a variety of trees, vines, and ferns. Shortly into my trip it became apparent that the family's dog, Mushroom, had decided to follow me. I turned her back only to have her reappear half an hour later. She was quite aware that I didn't want her with me, hanging back just out of site or moving quietly in the woods around me, making appearances once every hour or so. The trail rose out into an open pine forest filled with ferns and it was here that I finally met up with the Outeniqua trail I was looking for.

My goal was to travel along this trail as far as I could to George and then perhaps all the way to George if I could find decent trails. For the first day since I wasn't in a hurry (and where I met the trail was about halfway between the two huts) I decided to head the opposite direction to the Millwood hut. All along the trail there are little huts for hikers to stay at and they are quite nice. They often have reservoirs of rainwater, bathrooms, showers, a wood fireplace or cooking area, and lots of bunks.

My decision proved to be a good one. A couple of kilometers before the Millwood hut the trail came to a picnic site with a stream and a paved road coming in. Some kids playing there informed me that some other people were at the Millwood hut and had dogs with them. Not wanting to have to deal with that I back tracked a little ways back in the woods and set up camp with my hammock. I SMS'd the family from the farm to pick up the dog from the picnic site in the morning and went about cooking. The first night in the woods was quite exciting, all the forest sounds, especially the wind occasionally roaring through the canopy were quite fascinating. It was kind of nice to have the dog with me. Poor Mushroom was hungry and a little distressed, but she dug herself a bed under my hammock and settled down.

In the morning the pickup went without problem, Mushroom was very happy to see her family, and I was on my own for real this time. Within an hour of hiking I was back to the fork where I first met the trail and here it became apparent that the trail was designed as a 1-way hike. Meaning that all the trail signs and markers only told you were to go next, not where you were coming from. The whole forest is a web of different paths and roads. Some of them are just firebreaks, some of them are single-track hiking trails, others are logging roads of various quality and use. At various points this was an issue, but in general I became pretty good at figuring out which path the trail sign was intended to be read from. Sometimes I'd have to put down my pack and go a little ways up a trail looking for markers just to make sure. This was all made even more interesting by the fact that sometimes the markers were faded, or that there was lichen on the trees was grew very similarly to the 'footprint' trail marker.

My second day took me to the Platbos hut where I had the entire place to myself. This would be true of the entire trip actually as I never saw another hiker the entire time. I arrived at the Platbos hut just after noon, did some yoga, took a nice shower, and then hung out, read and enjoyed the beautiful weather. The hut was right next to some active logging sites, but fortunately it was Sunday and they weren't working. Where this did make things interesting was in finding the next trail.

There were clear signs to the Millwood hut, but not signs for 'back to Windmeulnek hut.' So part of my afternoon activity was to find the path. A little wandering turned up a road that had the footprint markings on it. I felt satisfied and had a nice evening meal of plain rice (as I did every night). My breakfast of plain oats was filling if not exactly satisfying and I set out around 730. After a little ways on the road I stopped seeing the footprint markers. This wasn't uncommon, often there'd be several in one area and then none for a long stretch, but when I came across a fork with no sign I became a little worried. I went forward and found a 4 way intersection with no sign, back tracking turned up nothing as well. I did however run into a logger who informed me that I should just follow the road along the mountain.

Fortunately the Windmeulnek hut was way up on a mountain saddle and visible from Platbos. Also this entire stretch of the forest had been burned down in 2007 and so I could see the whole area and the network of roads going through it. I figured if I stayed high on the logging roads I'd be alright. I started out on a logging road that went away from Windmeulnek, but up to a pass and looked promising. Fortunately at the top of this pass I found signs for the Outeniqua trail. The rest of the day was a beautiful and long hike along the side of the mountains. There were beautiful views of the forest, coast, and farm land in the area. The vegetation was flourishing since the fire and there were lots of flowers everywhere. It was a grueling day though and the end was a long uphill climb to the saddle where the hut sat. 20+ km and 9 hours of hiking... I was exhausted when I arrived at 430.

When I got to the hut one of the first things I noticed was a sign at the head of the trail saying 'Closed for Maintanence.' Oops, well maybe if they marked their trails both ways I would have known! There were some sketchy parts on the trail, but in general it was OK. And it was mostly just sketchy because of my 30kg bag on my back. There was a forest route to Platbos that was open, but I hadn't found trail markers for that either.

The Windmeulnek hut was amazing. Gorgeous views in both directions, nice big windows in the bunk rooms let in lots of light, and, as usual, I had the place to myself! Being exhausted, a little sore, and having supplied to last me several days, I decided to spent two nights at the Windmeulnek hut. Beautiful sunsets in the west put me to bed and beautiful sunrises from the east greeted me in the morning. I had a wonderful time relaxing here and did a little bushwhacking peak climb as well.

The hike out from Windmeulnek was mostly uneventful. Back in the forests, steady downhills, some uphill, lots of even land for 16 km. I got out onto a gravel road at the head of the trail around noon and within a few minutes a car pulled up and asked if I wanted I ride. They gave me a lift all the way to the National road just 18 km from George. From there I hitched to George with a guy who was a mechanic for small engines. Then I caught a ride into town with two tourists from Pretoria. They dropped me off at Steers (a local fast food chain) where I enjoyed my first beef in a month and had a nice big pile of fries. The Steers was just a couple blocks from the friend I had stayed with earlier in George, so a short walk later found me sitting where I am right now.

All in all it was an amazing and beautiful trip. I'll get photos up eventually. Next I'm heading to Stellenbosch to see the beautiful wine region of South Africa and then I fly to London on the 25th from Cape Town. And so will begin my European adventure.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Catching up

Still hanging out here in Knysna. Catching up on photos from the trip. Bloemfontein for the England v Germany game. This was the last time all four of us were together.

Then I went down to Pietermaritzberg with Justin and stayed with his uncle Steve. We had a great time down there and went on a sweet hike up Sentinel Peak in the Drakensberg. There's also some pictures from a little tourist safari village near Pietermaritzberg.

Justin flew out of Durban on the 1st of July and I got dropped off in Kloof. Kloof is a beautiful area just north of Durban. There's a beautiful gorge in Kloof (Kloof mean gorge in afrikaans) that I got to hike in with some friends. Also had another short trip up to the berg with a couple friends there. I got some nice pictures of the gorge hike.

Then there's a bit of a gap in my picture taking. Didn't get the camera out for the 2nd berg trip unfortunately. Didn't take any pictures in Joburg or George either. But I've got some good ones from here at Farm 119 and my tour of Knysna with the family.

Also in case you didn't catch them, here are the links for my photos of Port Elizabeth, Durban, Mossel Bay, and Cape Town.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Flowing and Farming

So I got to George with no problems, stayed with a great guy out there that I found through couchsurfing. He was the local magistrate and was very interesting to talk to. Then less than a week before I was going to start on the farm near Ashton I get an email from them saying they have 'personal issues' that need to be dealt with before they can have any volunteers. At first I was a little annoyed, but then I remembered that my goal all along was to travel with as little of a plan as possible. That way you're always open for every opportunity that you come across. But that also means that you have to be ready to move on when that opportunity vanishes. Fortunately the magistrate was very flexible and accommodating. I spent a few days there hanging out with him and some of his friends and started figuring out what was next.

It wasn't long before all sorts of different opportunities popped up. In the end I decided to go with a small family farm just north of the town of Knysna. Knysna is just an hour east of George and the magistrate was nice enough to drive me out there one afternoon.

Now i'm out on a little farm tucked away right next to the Outeniqua forest, a huge forest/nature reserve. Its a small family with two young kids, a 3 year old boy and a 6 year old girl, and two dogs, Mushroom and Fettuccine. They've been out here about 2 years now and are slowly developing the land. They're got a nice little house and are completely off the grid. They run on rainwater and solar power. In terms of farm life there isn't much going on yet. They let their neighbors cows graze on their land for now so they don't have to mow and they have a couple small gardens. Its tough for them to do much else yet because you can't just start planting anything and anywhere because of the pests.

When I say pests I mean birds, but mostly baboons. Yes that's right, baboons. The forest is home to many creatures including leopards, elephants, and various primates including baboons (and lots of them). People always talk about wanting a pet monkey, but out here in Africa they are the ultimate pest. When baboons descend from the forest they cause complete mayhem. They rip up gardens (sometimes eating the food), break things, and, God forbid you left a door open, trash houses. Oh and did I mention that baboons can be quite dangerous? The males can get up to around 90 lbs and baboons often travel in troops. Out here its not unheard of to see troops of 40+ baboons traveling around together. They have long sharp canines (longer than a lions) and can be quite aggressive, especially towards women. For some reason they aren't scared of women at all, but they will tend to shy away from men. So that's why its hard to farm out here. Though I'm kind of hoping for a baboon raid while I'm here.

There's plenty of other work to be done. Lots of fencing to keep the dogs in as well as other improvements on the property. I'm in the middle of laying a patio for them, then we need to address some erosion issues with their drainage. There will be no shortage of work while I'm out here. I have my own little room in a refurbished storage container and I am getting fed very well too (Although they are vegetarians, so some people might disagree). The forest and mountains are gorgeous as well. I've had a chance to do a little hiking, running, and even mountain biking. Loving it out here, just taking it one day at a time.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Moving On

So the World Cup has finally come to a close, schools are back in session(the whole of South Africa took school off during the World Cup) and life continues. Its been a wonderful festive month here in South Africa. Spirits have been high and there has been little besides soccer on the minds of many people. Its also time for my travels to continue!

Since Cape Town I've been up to Bloemfontein for the England v Germany game, back down to the Durban area for a week, and then I returned to Joburg for a few days as well. Its been a fun time filled with World Cup soccer, beaches, great food, and even some hiking. I've had two chances now to get to the Drakensberg range (the 'berg' as they refer to it out here) on the eastern border with Lesotho. It's the largest of the ranges out here in South Africa. While it doesn't compare to the Rockies in scale, it is a beautiful and impressive area. I've also had time to enjoy the gorgeous Kloof gorge just north of Durban and of course the recently improved Durban beach front. Once again lots of wonderful people generously hosting me and showing me around their country!

Now I'm off to George in the Western Cape. It's a place I drove through before, but didn't get a chance to enjoy. Located on South Africa's Garden Route, its a beautiful place with mountains, forests, farms, and lots of beautiful coast line. I'll have about a week to travel around this area before heading a little further west and inland to Ashton, where I'll start working on a nearby farm. This will most likely take me to the end of my South Africa trip. I'll probably either take my flight to London and start traveling around Europe or I'll head up north to Namibia and travel around southern Africa. I have plenty of time to decide.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

South Africa: First Impressions

One of the first things you notice about South Africa when you come off the plane is the fences. Not nice white picket fences lining green lawns, but walls with solid metal fences toped with vicious looking spikes. If I was to start a business in Johannesburg I would go into the fencing business. Everywhere you go you'll see large fences, some topped with spikes, some with razor wire, some with electric wire, some with a combination. People are quite serious about their fencing here.

The country seems to be one with contrasting extremes as harsh and abrupt as the fencing. In a short drive through Joburg you can go from a nice neighborhood, to grassy fields (in the winter often burnt or burning), to large mansions, and then suddenly to low income housing and shanty towns.

South Africa seems to be correctly named the "Rainbow Nation," because like a rainbow, everybody fits into a distinct color. You have English speaking whites, Afrikaans, Colored, Indians, and Blacks. And more or less everyone seems to fit into one of these categories. If the apartheid had its way then the fencing would still keep these colors apart, as it is the colors are bleeding together slowly.

I'm not trying to sound negative, far from it. South Africa is a diverse and wonderful country filled with diverse and amazing people. And its amazing to see how far the country has come in such a short period of time. The apartheid is recent history, just over 15 years gone. To contrast that with racial change in the United States, it was nearly a century after slavery was abolished before the black civil rights movement really picked up any ground. That said, there is still along way to go.

If you ask a South African their opinion of their country almost everyone will answer that they love their country. If you ask a South African their opinion of where their country is headed then it really seems to depend on whether they are an optimist or a pessimist. The country has its fair share of problems that nobody can deny. You have a government struggling with corruption and at times competency. Theres a poor majority with an unemployment rate that, if found in America, would seem to indicate the end of the world. There are also some pretty rough numbers in terms of violent crimes (especially rape) and then of course AIDS.

So ask the pessimist. He'll tell you that you have a wealthy minority paying all the taxes, but then the corrupt and incompetent government isn't even getting most of that money where it needs to go (toward development of housing and education in the low-income areas). Unfortunately this is the same government that the poor majority keeps voting in. He'll also point out that affirmative action is making it harder for whites to get jobs and lowering the quality of the schools. The result is that more and more of the educated population is looking overseas for work and to raise their families.

What about the optimist? He won't deny the problems, but will point out that there has been lots of progress and good accomplished since the apartheid. Corruption is slowly being weeded out of the government by the judicial system. And in general relations between races is good. This is especially apparent in recent sporting events. The World Cup more or less has gone very smoothly and everyone has been very friendly, tourists will certainly be returning home with positive reviews. In Soweto, a black township near Johannesburg, rugby games are being hosted for the tri-nations cup while all the stadiums in Pretoria and Joburg are being used for the World Cup. Rugby is historically a white South African sport and Soccer a black South Africa sport. In the last month everyone in South Africa has become a soccer fan and a Bafana supporter. In Soweto the blacks have become great hosts and even fans alongside the Afrikaans rugby supporters.

So sure there's social, political, and economic problems, most countries have these. But South Africa is a country with great spirit. They've overcome great obstacles that have torn apart other nations, and they will continue to progress.

Lots of new pictures up!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Along the Cape

Durban was a tropical paradise compared to our frigid nights in Joburg and Rustenburg. The lows were in the 50s and the highs in the 80s. The locals all thought it was quite cool and the beaches were pretty much empty. Durban is along the eastern part of the Cape on the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean. There is also a huge Indian population in Durban (and South Africa in general, in fact Ghandi lived here for a while during his early life) and the place has a very different feel from the Guateng province in the north. It's warmer and greener, but it also seem to have a more affluent feel to it. Joburg is where people go to make money, but Durban seems to be a place people like to go once they have it. The country clubs, villas, palm trees, and sandy beaches make the place seem a bit like a nice southern california town. This makes the shanty towns crawling up the hillsides seem even more out of place then they were in Joburg. The stadium in Durban is absolutely gorgeous and right next to the coast. We got to enjoy Japan vs Holland in this beautiful stadium.

After a brief two day stay in Durban we started down on Coast towards Cape Town on the Baz Bus. The Baz Bus is a great bus that goes along the cape and picks up and drops off travellers at various backpackers along the way. Our first stop was in Port Elizabeth, half way to Cape Town from Durban. Port Elizabeth is smaller and quieter than Durban, but a very beautiful green area. We spent the day walking along the beaches and then watch Bafana Bafana beat France 2-1, but unfortunately not enough to save their World Cup hopes. They go down as the first host to not make it out of the group round. People weren't too upset by this though. There weren't many expectations going into the tournament and they played very well (drawing with Mexico 1-1 and beating France). In general people are still happy and proud to be hosting the World Cup.

After one full day in Port Elizabeth we had a shorter day on the Baz Bus to Mosselbaai (Mossel Bay). Here we had time to just relax and hang out on the beach. Oh and watch the USA beat Algeria and win their group!

After a day in Mossel Bay we arrived in Cape Town. Cape Town is a beautiful city nestled between the coast and Table Mountain. We hiked Table Mountain and got some beautiful views of the city and the cape.

Things are starting to wind down with our trip and pick up with the World Cup. The group stages are all finished and we're off to Bloemfontein to watch England vs Germany! After this I'll be staying with Justin and his uncle in Pietermaritzburg and then i'm on my own.

Here are a few pictures from joburg and rustenburg:

Friday, June 18, 2010

Oh when the Yanks go marching in!

It's been a great week out here in SA. Barely have had a chance to catch my breath and there's far to much to write about. The two USA games have been the bookends to our first week out there. Two draws sounds like a dull sporting experience, but it has been anything but that.

For our first game vs England we found a little pub near where we were staying in Joburg. The place was filled with England fans (though mostly South Africans) which made for a spirited though friendly atmosphere. The game ended 1-1 and will make England hold their heads in anguish for years to come.

We spent the next couple of days in the more rural city of Rustenburg northwest of Joburg. Here we went to my first World Cup match ever, New Zealand vs Slovakia. The match was entertaining and a NZ equalizer in the 93rd minute toped off a memorable (and slightly deafening) World Cup experience. The next day was spent doing our own self-guided safari in the nearby game park of Pilanesberg. We had a great time and saw quite a lot of wild life.

We're back in Joburg now. Today was dedicated to the USA vs Slovenia game. We showed up early to avoid traffic and started painting our faces outside the stadium. Shortly into our face painting session some guy showed up with more face paint and asked us to paint his face. Before we knew it there was a mini USA party happening on the street corner. If we're ever short on money all we need to do is show up to a game with face paint and start charging. The USA game started our as a disaster, some poor defensive play put the USA down 2-0 at the half. The USA players and fans weren't discouraged and shortly into the 2nd half Landon Donovan had a world class goal to get the USA going again. The USA threatened for most of the 2nd half and the equalizer finally came with about 10 minutes left. Needless to say the mostly American crowd went crazy. We were unlucky not to win the game when the ref mysteriously called our third goal back for no known reason. Still a USA game for the history books and an experience I will never forget.

So far we've met lots of great people (from South Africa and all around), been hosted by a few generous South Africans, and in general just had a great time. Tomorrow morning we're off for Durban where we'll spend a couple days near the coast and watch Japan vs Holland! We thought we didn't have much time to relax in Jozi... just wait for our trip along the cape.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Bafana Bafana!

So after a little over 48 hours of travelling I've finally made it to South Africa! The flights were great, uneventful. Things are lively here in South Africa. We're camping at a little place outside of Johanesburg. The nights are cold, but the days are quite nice. The World Cup opened up last night with South Africa's team (Bafana Bafana) playing Mexico in an exciting 1-1 draw. We went to a local park where they had set up a stage and big screens to show the game. The place was packed with local fans dancing, singing, and blowing their vuvuzelas (plastic horns that are really loud). It was quite a festive atmosphere, especially when South Africa went up 1-0 in the second half! Unfortunately Mexico equalized in the 80th minute. The crowd didn't stay silent for long and Bafana Bafana was unlucky to not with the game just before the end of regulation! Overall a great start to the trip and for South African football.

Tonight is the big game for the USA against the UK. The two teams haven't met since the 1950 World Cup where the USA won 1-0. The game is in Rustenburg, but we'll be finding a pub here in Jozi to watch it. Tomorrow we're leaving for Rustenburg where we'll spend a few nights and watch our first game out there (a defensive thriller, New Zealand vs Slovakia). Thats all to report for now.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Boston Ho!

Spent a few days in St Louis, leaving for Boston tomorrow! Spending a week there and then on to South Africa. Here are some pictures of when Bonnie was visiting out in Utah:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Farewell Utah

Just one week left here in Utah. Its been a great year, had lots of fun, met some great people.