Monday Musings: On just dropping by.

Good Monday, all.

I’m just dropping by, since that’s all I seem capable of these days. But these few random musings I felt compelled to share.

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A couple of years ago, I had the good fortune to travel to South Africa, a life-changing experience. I never thought I would go to Africa — I never felt its calling, as some do. That is until I went. South Africa is a fascinating, devastating, infuriating, inspiring country, and I will feel connected to it in my soul for the rest of my days. It’s hard to explain unless — until, I hope — you visit yourself. So, though we knew it was coming, Nelson Mandela’s death last week struck a chord. He was an amazing man who lived an extraordinary life. Continue reading

South Africa, Day 10: Headed home.

Well, this is it, the last post on the last day in South Africa. For those loyal readers, thanks for sticking with me — I’ll miss telling this story, which only means I have to go on another big, fabulous, exotic trip soon! Stay tuned.

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We were awakened again at 5:00 a.m. on our last day at Entabeni. As I sat up in bed, I started to feel the tell-tale scratchy throat that comes with the common cold. Nah, I said, it’s just the dry air. Uh huh.

We caught a vehicle and headed for coffee and biscotti at the lodge before the morning game ride. But on the way we encountered a herd of 3 or 4 giraffes, just grazing on the trees there in the dawning light. It was too dark to get a great photo, but they were still a sight to behold. So beautiful and awkward yet graceful.

Giraffe, in the dark.

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South Africa, Day 9: At Entabeni.

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The guides woke us at 5:00 a.m. on our second day at Entabeni, and we dragged ourselves out of warm beds into a chilly draft. Even with our heated blankets, it was cold overnight, and given our wooden hut we were afraid to leave the space heater on. We dressed, climbed the precarious staircase to the top of the cliff and were shuttled in game vehicles to the lodge for coffee and biscotti.

Sunrise over Entabeni.

Gareth was our driver again on this morning ride, though it was too early and cold to be too excited about that. Entabeni rock, the lodge and sleeping cabins are on a flat plateau, but the ride was to take us down the mountain into the valley to see more animals. Departing the lodge, we saw more of the same wildebeest and impala. Gareth spotted some elephant tracks and followed them for a bit, to no avail.
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South Africa, Day 8: On Safari.

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Day 8 in South Africa marked the end of our “schoolwork” and the beginning of vacation — we were going on safari! You know, going on a safari was always on my bucket list, but I never really pushed it because I wasn’t sure how I was actually going to get to Africa. That’s why we should always leave ourselves open to new experiences, I guess. I put “safari” on a list, threw it out into the universe, and there I found myself, headed to the Entabeni game reserve in northern South Africa.

From Johannesburg, the ride to Entabeni was about 4 hours, and we were warned that the last 45 minutes would be on unpaved, dirt road. A true adventure! Exhaustion was at its height by this point, so most people welcomed the 4 hours to nap, but I was so excited to see the real landscape of South Africa. Because it was winter, everything was dry and brown, but still breathtakingly beautiful.

Leaving the Westcliff, Johannesburg.

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South Africa, Day 7: Pretoria and a braai.

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As we awoke on Day 7 in South Africa, we were greeted with another beautiful, clear, crisp, winter day. I stress “crisp” and “winter” because we found ourselves standing on the airport tarmac in the wind waiting to enter the South African Airways (SAA) maintenance hangar. There may or may not have been penguin-like huddling to shield ourselves from the cold. We were all friends by then, luckily.

We toured SAA Technical as part of another corporate visit, seeing the maintenance hangar with its engines, wings and other parts awaiting service. Since at that time I worked for an airline labor organization, my knowledge of aircraft types, airlines and labor issues impressed even me. It’s not a normal moment in my life to hold an intelligent conversation with an airline maintenance supervisor, but I did that day.

At SAA, we discussed the same employment and social issues we’d heard before regarding black economic empowerment (BEE) programs, affirmative action and a “brain drain” to the Middle East. It wasn’t their fault, because we normally would have been alert and interested, but by Day 7 we just tried not to nap during the presentation.
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South Africa, Day 6: Johannesburg and Soweto.

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I feel like those kids on “How I Met Your Mother”: Dad, it’s taken you a year to tell this story.

Well, yes, 6 months … but we’re getting there.

It’s now Day 6, the first morning in Johannesburg. Finally, finally, we awake to clear, sunny skies.

View from the top of the Westcliff.

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South Africa, Day 5: Redressing the past.

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Here’s where it starts to get heavy. On Day 4 at the Solms-Delta winery, we began to delve deeper into the issues of race and culture in South Africa today. It’s definitely a country in transition, still reeling from its history of apartheid. But while I expected an unstable, even corrupt and crime-ridden society, instead I witnessed one full of hope, optimism and possibility, even while the future is very much unknown.

On Day 5, following our obligatory omelet and breakfast spread, we packed our emergency box of pastries and headed to Eerste River, a colored community on the outskirts of Cape Town. Our appointment was at the Eerste River Hospital, where we were to meet hospital CEO Dr. Visser. South Africa operates a state health system, and the country deals with many health issues, including AIDS and outbreaks of tuberculosis that have been exacerbated by the AIDS situation. South Africa’s previous president Thabo Mbeki was considered an AIDS denialist, and while he was in office his personal philosophy became government policy. During that time, necessary antiretrovirals were denied to hospitals trying to treat AIDS patients. Under current president Jacob Zuma, that policy has been reversed; though, after being accused of rape by an AIDS activist and declaring it to be consensual, Zuma stated that he did not take precautions since he “took a hot shower.” I’m sure that sort of misinformation isn’t helping the matter.

Eerste River Hospital.

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South Africa, Day 4: A visit to wine country.

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Day 4 in South Africa brought our first true disappointment. The weather was still rainy and overcast, but had deteriorated enough that the ferries to Robben Island were canceled for the day. Robben Island is the prison where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 years, and I was really looking forward to seeing what it was like. Bummer.

Instead, we drove around the city and saw more of Cape Town’s residential architecture and government buildings before driving out towards the wine country. On the highway we passed so many townships that we lost count — it’s just acres and acres of dilapidated housing, some decent enough but some nothing more than stacks of corrugated iron paneling. At a break in the drizzling rain we even saw a rainbow … which provided an interesting juxtaposition above the township slum.

Townships along the highway.

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South Africa, Day 3: An introduction to Cape Town.

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We awoke on the third day, our first actually in South Africa, to a cool, overcast day in Cape Town. I don’t think we ever adjusted to the time difference  — we basically just passed out every night and woke with the alarm every morning. So I never felt “jet lagged,” only constantly exhausted, yet exhilarated by all that I was seeing.

The Mount Nelson is an old, shabby, but still stately hotel, and first on our agenda that morning was the full breakfast buffet. For someone who almost never eats breakfast (I know, quelle horreur!), I quickly got used to the made-to-order omelets. Whenever I travel abroad, I’m fascinated by what they serve for breakfast. Cape Town clearly has a European influence, so the buffet included the requisite smoked meats and cheeses. The pastry spread was unbelievable, and we ended up eating a chocolate croissant every morning — it became tradition, whether we felt like it or not. I was also obsessed with the yogurt and exotic fruits, like fresh guava and passion fruit. [Which I ate in addition to my omelet and croissant, because breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? Okay.]

The Mount Nelson Hotel.

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South Africa, Days 1-2: Just getting there.

[Sidebar: Today is September 5, which marks the first anniversary of this blog! My first official post was a recap of my trip to Australia, so it’s both surprising and apropos that one year later I’m talking about another big trip. If only my life were always that exciting!

I started this blog as a lark, because I was feeling bored and unchallenged. But along the way I’ve received love and encouragement from so many of you who read it regularly, and miss it when I don’t write. So, thank you to all of my readers, whether this is your first post or you’ve dutifully read all 79 of them. Your support (and eyeballs) really mean so much. Mwah, Whitney]

Oh, South Africa. Where to even begin. I knew this trip would be important and life-changing even before the flight took off, and it didn’t disappoint. I’ll attempt to recap here all that we did, saw, ate and felt over those jam-packed 10 days abroad. As you’ve seen, I’m a terrible photographer, so please know that I won’t do the country’s beauty one bit of justice. It’s such a special place, and it was a special trip. One that we’re still talking about and will for months and years to come.

To begin: we flew for days and days.
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