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!