Sunday, 29 May 2011

Cats, lots of cats!

So many thoughts going around my head right now. Mostly about my misplace notebook - the last time I saw it was in the Cafe at Wildlife Ranch before we returned to the hostel. Will be my mission tomorrow before the shuttle collects us, hopefully it was handed in. 

The last time I updated was in Knysna, so very blue, more than slightly European.The second day there was gloriously sunny, not a cloud in the sky, as if the rain the previous day was just a dream. Laura, Lizzie and I had a lovely lunch at the Oyster Bar by the harbour. We shared a bottle of wine called 'Angel's Tears', Lizzie and I shared four 'Angels on Horseback', which were oysters cooked in bacon and breadcrumbs. Laura and had a 1kg of sticky prawns between us, twas rather good. 

Oysters are a specialty in Knysna, there was a guy in the boat outside the bar washing them with a hose. We could see the water through the floorboards of this bar as a traditional version of 'Scarborough Faire' was playing quietly overhead. The first and last time I tried oysters was a couple of birthdays ago when the boyfriend took me to a champagne bar with a live piano in Birmingham, it was part of an otherwise delicious seafood platter. Birmingham is pretty land-locked and not the best place to eat oysters, it has to be said. I saw Laura's oysters and decided to order one single large oyster on ice for a whole R8. Wasn't bad actually, tastes mostly of brine but less so than the oysters I've had before. Lizzie later said that 'it looks like the thick gloppy stuff people with COPD cough up', which was charming. She had the grace to wait until after I had eaten, it has to be added in her defense. 
In the afternoon, we went on a free tour of the Knysna Heads, and we found out from our guide Orin that Knysna was founded in 1816. There are 62,800 people living there, of which 15,000 were coloured, 20,000 were in townships and the rest were white. The Heads were rocks either side of the lagoon, and named the most dangerous entry point by the Navy, due to the number of fatalities and currents that can reach 150km/hr. My favourite fact of the day was that 120 million tons of water pass through the Heads every 6hrs; Orin told us to imagine 20 million fully-grown elephants. 
We went on an impromptu 1hr township tour at the end of this, Orin hadn't had work for a few days and needed the money. Well, the township tour was free, but we were told that we were welcome to tip the guide! It was interesting, the informal settlement, not everyone who lives in a township is poor. Amidst the shacks were nice houses with electricity and microwaves, Orin told us that the black folk like to stick to their own, even when they make it in the world. He made us walk down a squelchy muddy path that had 'islands' of cardboard here and there to stop you disappearing - that was one of the main 'streets' of the township. There are no toilets in this place, proximity of the homes means it's a pretty big fire risk. Orin reckoned the best way of advertising was by 'holding hands', which he demonstrated for rather too long on me. Word of mouth through a close-knit community was his point really, that and personal space wasn't really that popular a concept around here. 

I would write more about the township and a story Orin told us, but I'm running out of time, so I'll move onto Oudtshoorn before I log off. Had an ostrich braai yesterday night at the hostel, kebabs and sausage with potato, homemade bread and salad. Mmm. Beds are so comfy, lots of space which made a nice change after the narrow aisle between bunks in Knysna's Island Vibe. Went to Cango Caves today, Laura and I didn't do the Adventure tour (our guide has been there for 4 years and only went up to the Devil's Chimney twice), but we took the standard round in one of Africa's most impressive caves. Lizzie said afterwards that the caving we did in Swaziland was much more hardcore, it was warm and dry here and only for 30 minutes.Amazing formations, so very, very old. 

Then went onto the Ostrich Farm, where for the price of R50, I got a hug, a ride, and a 'neck massage' from ostriches. The last one I put in inverted commas because you basically hold a bucket of feed, bend down a bit, and you can't see anything for ostrich heads as they ate from behind of you. The ride was pretty wild, I got picked first for everything on this tour, and my ride was called 'Killer'. The others' trotted, but my word, Killer was actually mad and just ran. 

Wildlife Ranch was the one I looked forward to the most, I could write so much about it but again, I'm aware of the clock ticking. It was mostly like a zoo with a guide but you could buy 'experiences' additional to this, which meant I was playing with three 3 month old tiger cubs, and got to pet two 2 year old Cheetahs. 70kmh in 2 seconds, the cheetah was not much more than fur and muscle. One started licking my hand, and it was like sandpaper. They behaved so much like the cats at Wild Spirit that I found myself laughing out loud. The tiger cubs were brothers, two were the normal tiger sort of colour but the third was white. It was amazing, it really was. 
Right, I have to go now, Hermanus tomorrow. Lizzie is doing shark cage diving there, but I won't be. Mostly because of expenses, as I much preferred to play with big cats and Lizzie doesn't like cats so went for a bike ride instead. I've heard there are nice places to eat out in Hermanus though - it was a super noodle evening tonight as today as been a relatively expense day. Speak soon!

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Cloudy Dragon

So the last time I blogged was in Durban.. hello from Knysna! The rain appears to have followed us for the last couple of days but yesterday, I was surrounded by cats in front of a toasty fire in Wild Spirit Lodge at the Crags, which overlooked Lord of the Rings style misty mountains and forests. Rain may have been dripping from the colourful bunting, but I was pretty happy. There was Angus from Durban with his wild black hair and beard, flowers embroidered on the seat of his parka and he wore wellington boots. There was Peter, who was 91 and spent most of his time by the fire, he was originally from Cambridge and was stationed in Warwick for a while when he was in the army. The lodge was built by Germans in 1942 and he bought it in 1980 and his daughter runs it now. There was Warren, who didn't speak very much, but took us for a waterfall walk in the afternoon. Then there was a woman who was very much into her sacred fires, chakras, and eternal flames. She looked very skeptical when we were talking about how the universe was expanding.

'…but surely it's not physically expanding, I mean, it's not linear.'

She gave Lizzie and I stones to hold, and said they hold answers to our questions, they have been around for such a long time and know so much. Each line holds a story. I was a bit puzzled as mine was clearly cut and polished. It was mostly clear with a purple heart, and sharpened to a rough point, amethyst perhaps. To Lizzie's horror, the stone slipped out of my hand as I turned it a few times, quite by accident. Luckily the lady was away at the time so she wasn't offended.

We had a lovely meal of baked hake (fresh from the sea), potatoes in a creamy sauce, baked veggies and Chinese leaf from the garden. There were four of us from the Baz Bus, Angus  said he normally remember the first letter of people's names, so when it came out as 'Lucia, Lizzie, Laura and Larry' he just called us L1, L2, L3 and L4. Then there were two others, Michael and Barbara, son and mum pair travelling from Canada. It was really homely, and we had a nice evening chatting over good food, with cats on our laps. There was also baby Bungie, who ran laughing through the muddy puddle when Jenny and I when to see the horses in the stables earlier in the afternoon. She was the daughter of the African lady who helps around the place, Peter said the lady was very kind and looked after his wife until she died last year.

The beds were comfortable and the dorm was very nice, there's a sign saying that there are resident bats in the rafters though I couldn't find any. Later I was told there aren't any around this time as it's so cold. Laura was pretty glad about this. They once had a Swiss couple that 'liberated' 19 chicks from where they were sold, and left them in the lodge, as you do. So there were chickens pecking around the place, being chased by dogs. There was mummy cat, a beautiful pale sandy creature, then the ginger boys from her first litter, Bangle and something else I can't remember now, then three from her second litter, Nutmeg, Gingersnap and my favourite, Aslan. Aslan was the fluffiest.

I played with the cats and dogs whilst we were waiting for the Baz Bus, Lizzie and Laura went for a walk but I just lost track of time because I was having so much fun with the animals. We said our goodbyes, and signed the guestbook (I drew a snowflake obsidian elephant with my note, who was a bit drunk today), Angus waved and Peter blew us a kiss as the bus drove off, we all felt pretty sad to leave.

Knysna is quite unlike anywhere we've been to so far, the photos I took of the waterfront could have been from a number of places, but there are interesting shops around there and a promising-looking oyster bar. Not that I like raw oysters but they're pretty local around here. They are closed from 4pm onwards, so we'll try it tomorrow, there's 1kg of prawns on the menu for R140 which I'm looking forward to.

After Durban, we went onto Coffee Shack at Coffee Bay. We left that day at 6.30am and didn't get there until 4.30pm, we drove to the free sundower right after we arrived at the hostel before the full moon party. The moon was unbelievable. Imagine a piece of black card with a perfect round hole cut into it, and behind this hole, there was a very bright, white light.  So bright that it almost doesn't look like the moon at all, until you look closer and see the shadows across her face. This black 'card' is scattered with white stars, some of them shooting, and clouds that lit up with lightning. The waves crested silver with moonlight and crashed softly onto the shore. It was beautiful. I walked to the very edge of the water and watched for a while.

The big five of the Transkei, home to the Xhosa people, are as follows: goats, cows, horse, pigs and sheep. The language has three types of clicks, which are difficult for me to demonstrate, and people live in rondavels made from mud and cow dung bricks. The round shape to better distribute the weight, most of them are painted green as this is the cheapest paint, and the rubber tire on the top of the rondavel holds the thatching together. The shells and plants in the tire are decorative. Pay the brick layer R800 for a house.10 cows is the going rate for a wife.

On the first day, we went for a hike that took us to 'The Place of Pumpkins', everyone is referred to as brothers, sisters or mommas. Mthatha meant to 'to take', the town was named after the river, where the dead used to be taken. I jumped off a cliff to hit choppy water 8m below, as crazy as it sounds really, the scary bit was waves crashing over my head after I surfaced.    I struggled to get back to the rocks with the current and when Joseph dragged me up, I scratched my knees on barnacles and it looked pretty bad. Catherine was jumping after me and had to wait for a while after I got a bit swept away. Lizzie's mum would be glad to know that she didn't jump, probably sensible. I went first because I couldn't bear to hear anyone else scream, haha, not that I had long to think about what I did when I jumped. I was told that 'there's a big rock over there, so don't jump over there, but aim for the rock that way'. We had cheese toasties for lunch by the 'Toastie King'. All that was for R60, which is amazing.

The second day, we tried surfing, I spend most of my time face planted in the water but the one time when I stood on my board all the way to the shore was glorious. The third day, we went to Hole in the Wall, which Lizzie was quite excited about because of her surname. It was a cool rock formation with well, a hole worn through it by the waves. We swam there in front of the hole before committing ourselves to quite a strenuous 3hrs hike, where Johnny Walker the guide kept telling us that there was just one more hill. We went to a village in the evening for a bit of culture, the girls sat on grass mats and the boys got chairs, the rondavel was surprising warm and the floor was cleaned earlier with cow dung. We watched  dancing, and then to my horror, I was dragged to my feet by Johnny and made to dance in front of everyone. I worn a turban and an apron, and looked like an ambassador apparently, and it was generally embarrassing. It was in front of all our group, and there was a Belgium woman, a German girl called Bella and I. There was local beer, that girls had to kneel before drinking, and then lots of food. Maize pap, cabbage and more but it was dark and kinda hard to tell what you were eating. It was very nice, but a lot of it. The women and the children loved having their photos taken, the Belgium woman kept taking them, but the locals went up to everyone to ask them for photos. Then there was question time after the meal, where we asked them questions and they asked us about where we came from, who is looking after our parents when we are away, and how one of them had a son and whether the girl in the front row would marry him. Logistics of sending a huge box of biltong? Met some interesting people in Coffee Bay, including Todd the pilot from New York, Reuben and Vince from Holland. Reuben was into packaging and hockey, Vince mostly teased me for dancing the whole evening. As Lizzie said, they danced with their hips and bums, and I danced with my knees and elbows.

Johnny asked 'what do you guys call the cloudy dragon?' We told him that we call it the 'Milky Way'. The stars were absolutely stunning. We pretty much just chilled in Cintsa by the beach, did some body-boarding and went to the Barefoot Cafe. There was Steve the carpenter who worked there, reminded us of Bernard from Black Books. Think I've run out of things to say now, I'm typing this from Laura's mac, going to get some net time now to blog it. Phew, finally caught up.

Oh, the night following the village, I was again ambushed and had to dance in front of people in the bar to African drumming. No more dancing for some time.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Onwards and upwards!

Hello again from Bob’s Bunkhouse, another gloriously sunny day, chiefly evolved around food. We had breakfast, went for a big food shop, snacked on Biltong (meat jerky) on the way back, carved up the rotisserie chicken and had some with tomato and feta cheese for lunch. A nice Polish man from London by the name of Greg gave us the rest of his internet cafĂ© credit but it’s not open on a Sunday, shame. He also gave us some of his pizza before we went onto getting our own last night. Roman’s Pizza did buy one get one free, so we got a large bacon and banana, and a large bacon and avocado. Lizzie ate all of hers last night, but I’ve still got some in the fridge J

Have to rewind a bit here, as I have been away from the computer, here goes.

I'm not a Royalist, but I did watch part of the infamous wedding from the male surgical ward, which was pretty surreal. There are no Orthopaedic surgeons here in Tintswalo, no drill either, so everyone is on traction. Breaking a femur and you stay for 6 weeks. One unfortunate woman broke both sides of her pelvis, both femurs and one tibia in a motor vehicle accident (MVA), so the plan is hopefully for her to be transferred to Rob Ferreira Hospital in Nelspruit for intervention. Also went onto the Paediatric ward, and met a very sweet 9 year old boy with exotosis (bony growths) who loved the attention we gave him, it's so nice when they are not afraid of us. I've gotten used to kids crying whenever I come near them, which is sad because I love kids.

We went away for the second bank holiday weekend as Anna's parents have come to stay and we thought it was time to make ourselves scarce. We went on a scenic road trip to Pilgrim's Rest, an old mining town purely existing now for tourists with British flags everywhere. It was a strange place, to tell the truth. Not sure if I would go again but the drive was lovely. In fact, all drives have been stunning, except the one in the taxi into the colourful centre of Joburg.

From Pilgrim’s Rest, we went onto Sabie, where we briefly stopped with Paul on our Kruger and Blyde River Canyon trip. Sabie Backpackers was a bit psychedelic with fire poi, African drumming, a hot tub (full of rather large German men), and a girl pin-up posing in a skimpy red bikini on the back of someone’s motorbike. A storm was brewing and the sky was grey, smoke was billowing from the wood burner but her friend snapped photos of her in front of everyone. Pretty disturbing that she was not embarrassed at all, and looked about 14, that and the photos would have been lousy from the smoke, so it made no sense on any level. Anyway, we didn’t get it, and so we left.  

The tourist info and museum were closed, so after a quick food shop, we drove to see Lone Creek Falls, which turned out to be pretty powerful! The girls wanted a photo of them close to it, and came back pretty drenched by the spray. In the evening, we met John from Australia who is building a house for missionaries. He is here for two months and  travels around on his motorbike (not the one the girl was posing on). There were also two (very) American girls by the names of Taunda and Sarah, from Joburg. John was staying in the same dorm as us and stayed for dinner, another rice surprise with avacado, Lizzie had about five portions and retired to her room but the rest of us had a nice time chatting into the night. We were going to go to the pub but then the skies opened and there was a lot of water coming down so we stayed put. John got serious munchies after a few drinks and we went to get food from the petrol station. Not used to junk food after all this healthy eating we've been doing.

I psyched myself up to do kloofing, which was described as an 'extreme hike' or canyoning in wetsuits, where you swim and scramble your way up to the waterfall. John once got his foot stuck for 2hrs between boulders on a school trip, the force of the water dislocated his hip, and he had to be taken out by ambulance. They had to cut his wetsuit, so he also got hypothermia, not that it stopped him going back to the Blue Mountains. I was worried about how my joints would be but John said he'd carry me, that and a family was booked onto doing it so I shouldn't feel bad about slowing anyone down. So the plan was to see how my joints were in the morning, and decide then. Last conversation I remember as we were lying in our bunks was about midgets. Don’t ask why, I dunno.

In the end, kloofing got rained off. Too slippery, I guess. The family didn't turn up for it either. So we decided to head back up North, to see more waterfalls and say goodbye to the girls and John. We went to see Bridal Veil, which was quite delicate compared to Lone Creek that we saw the previous day, and went on a walk through the drizzle and mist to the top. We also saw Mac Mac Falls, so named after the number of Scottish people in the area at the time, before driving onto Graskop, where we went with Paul to have Harrie’s Pancakes. I had snails, in a pancake, in South Africa, and they came from Sea World.  

In the afternoon, we went onto see Echo Caves, which exceeded our expectations formed from the dull postcard at the entrance. Rock formations that looked like an ostrich, cathedral organ pipes, stalactites echoing for miles when strike to warn the coming of Zulus in days gone by, we had a bit of fun with those. At one point, we were alarmed to hear what sounded like a big cat, but turned out to be the guide’s scary friend.

Once again, we landed on our feet despite not booking. The first place had a hostel section that needed to be booked a week in advance, and it was really for school trips. They offered us a place for R900 for three but we went onto to find Blyde River Backpackers (saw a honey badger on the way) that gave us our own little chalet with three beds for R130 each. They even had towels. Pack towels are well and good, but it makes you feel like a car windscreen. We met Martin and Marloise in the kitchen in the late evening, they recognised us as medical students as Lizzie was percussing her full gut. They were from Holland and working in South Africa, taking a Kruger Park break for the weekend. A man staying there worked on a citrus farm, and so we had free grapefruit.  

We went on two walks on Monday morning, near the Blyde River Dam. Pennisula walk by the water, and Waterfall walk, the latter of which could have been an English woodland, with a very peaceful waterfall that Lizzie and I sat on a fallen tree to listen to. Onto Moholoholo Wildlife Rehab Centre in the afternoon, which I have been looking forward to, and it was even better than I thought it would be. Got to feed vultures (they are so heavy), pet a 15th month old black rhino, and a lion charge at Lizzie through the fence. It was good to learn about the more negative side of human impact on African wildlife.     
I was not very well on Tuesday with my joints, and so stayed home. Graham and Sorrel (Anna’s parents) invited me to join their game drive, there wasn’t a great deal of game as it was midday but we saw a group of three sassaby, a type of antelope I haven’t seen before.

Lizzie and I finally sorted out a translator, Charity, for our project on Wednesday. Lizzie left us to do this in one of the consulting rooms in the clinic (with a metal sliding door), but Charity disappeared off after an hour to go to the bank despite my best efforts to get her to stay. She said there were no more consenting patients, but it was an error on our part not to mention the exact amount of pay at this point. She was much keener in the afternoon when we changed tactic and told her that she will get paid by number of questionnaires, she also brought a friend called Confidence to help out. I also taken a history and examined a man with the most horrific foot I had ever seen. He was cutting a tree August last year, got pierced by a thorn, didn’t complete his medication and opted for traditional medicine. It started to smell about three weeks ago, and his whole leg started swelling a week ago, he came in wanting an X-ray to see if anything was broken. Half his foot was missing, and it smelt pretty bad, wet and dry gangrene with an exposed tendon that had turned black. He could not move his toes anymore, and had cellulites all the way up his leg. I dressed him and told him that he is likely to need the theatre, and not an X-ray. He ended up having an above the knee amputation, we had to convince the family who were not keen on hospital medicine that this would save his life.

I hate feet.

Anyway, we had a simple dinner under the stars that night, as Tim and Anna were having a dinner party and we wanted to be out of their hair. The Milky Way is absolutely stunning. I love seeing shooting stars.

Thursday was results day, which was quite stressful. If I failed, I would have to catch a different flight back to England for the resits. Our project took a turn for the worse when the same nurse took us to the Information Officer. We took Tim with us this time, as the project is an audit and does not require ethic approval letter. The ethics committee have been informed anyway and raised no objection; they have not met in 7 months due to the chair being suspended for corruption. We had to wait for the CEO to call us back, ended later on in the day with Tim and the CEO having a big argument. Project had to be abandoned due to politics, at first it was ethics, then it was medical students should not be allowed to speak to patients and eventually ended along the foreign students line. Tim told us not to feel bad, there is R15,000 allocated per year to buy small equipment for the whole of Tintswalo, which is less than what is allocated to the CEO’s meetings.

I went to Maternity to hopefully see a birth in the afternoon, but the mums were not ready, so to speak. Though I had a go at examining and listening to fetal heart sounds, one of the female nurses asked if I had a boyfriend, and couldn’t see why I didn’t want a South African one as well. The other nurse told me not to listen to her. Didn’t see any births that day, but I found out I passed my exams, so it was a good day despite the project. The way back to the house was like a games drive, lots of game, and then we celebrated with cold beers and Sorrel’s carrot cake on the balcony when we got home as it was too late for a sundown. Roasted chicken with risotto for dinner, mmm.

Friday was a half day, again no births but I examined more. Even though I didn’t get to do LPs in the end, or deliver any babies, I realised that I have learnt a lot. I was getting good at the cannulas, I no longer panicked when someone needed a drip, and I could sulture pretty neatly. I took a history from family of a young female patient bound in a wheelchair. She had four family members holding her down; she was hearing voices and was violent. The nurse wanted me to fill in the paperwork, so I effectively sectioned someone whilst waiting for the sedation to kick in.

We went to Jos Macs to see the sundown, was a long drive for a drink but the gin and tonics were worth it. Lizzie and I also had Jaffles, a type of cheese toastie. The moon was a red crescent in the sky by the time we left to pack at home.

We left the house at 6am yesterday, arrived to Kruger airport to drop off the car around 8am. John very kindly met us up to give us a lift from the airport to Nelspruit, don’t know what we would have done without him. There, we said goodbye to Alice, who was going onto Maputo in Mozambique. Lizzie and I were due to catch the Greyhound bus to Joburg for the Baz bus to pick us up on Monday (or tomorrow) for our Garden Route adventure. We had a quick brunch with John (we insisted on paying as he wouldn't take petrol money), before saying goodbye for the last time. John said we were welcome to visit him in Australia, and I could tell that he meant it too. Such a genuinely nice guy.

The bus journey took 5 hours, and we Robyn at the bus station. Bob told her to share our taxi, which worked out great for us. She had a horrible time on the bus from Mozambique that day. 'First I had a boob in my face. The woman next to me was feeding her child on my lap and I got breast milk on my trousers. Then we hit a cow, and then telephone lines.'

Next stop, Northen Drakensberg! We will be staying at Ampitheatre, and visiting Charlotte at the orphanage on Tuesday, leaving for Durban on Friday, where we will stay at Happy Hippo for 3 days before moving onto Coffee Bay and Chintsa provisionally. We weren’t going to stop in Port Elizabeth but have to due to the Baz Bus stop. Possible stops include Jefferies Bay, Storms River and Knysna. I’m keen to go to Oudtshoorn to play with cheetahs and leopards but it’s a bit awkward to get to via George so we’ll see. Planning to stay in Cape town for 6 days at the end before flying back, so the rest of the route will be determined really by who we meet on the way and what people recommend. I’m looking forward to the sea though! Net access will be patchy so I’m off now to warn my mum. Take care, everyone!