Sunday, December 20, 2009

trips and travel

Ick.  I've been playing with my settings and seem to have messed up my template.  The pictures have uploaded haphazardly.  Bear with me...

Here are a couple of shots of “standing under the trees” here on campus. The one with the little yellow blossoms is an acacia tree in bloom. (Photo at the very bottom.) The bee-like creatures here (they are the size of hummingbirds) absolutely love this tree and at any time of the day you can pass one and see thousands of these creatures. (I will try to find a photo or take a photo and will, as soon as I identify these strange creatures.)

Another, with the pine cones, if taken by me standing directly under the pine tree and looking up through the branches at the sky. (If the wind is blowing and I close my eyes, I can pretend I’m back at home and walking in the forest. The only thing missing is the bite of the winter air.)

And another is of a bunch of weaver-bird nests all congregated together very high up in a pepper tree. I call this area the weaver-bird condominium.

And the only South African wildlife I’m seeing regularly is the South African striped mouse (which I do not mind because he lives OUTSIDE in the bushes) and the yellow mongoose. (Let me know if you want the Latin names.)

The striped mouse reminds me of the “kangaroo rats” or “gerbils” we kept as pets when we were children. Yesterday, I had great fun watching a daddy barbet fighting with two of these striped mice over some fruit pieces I had thrown out. By the way, the barbets have come to me just as the bulbuls have: it seems that there is a mom barbet and a junior barbet and all have come to me in search of food. At one point, the whole family was fighting the striped mouse over a pear core.

The mongoose I see almost daily now, as my evening stroll corresponds with his. I have always imagined mongoose as fierce creatures, (Riki-Tippi something?) and I’m sure they are, as they are known to fight and kill snakes, but this guy seems quite skittish, and dashes off quickly when he finds me coming his way. (Which is the correct behavior of all wild animals when a human approaches.) He is fox-like with very short legs. He reminds me of a cat when I see him, and I often wonder if it is cat I'm seeing. And then I see his white-tipped tail and know he is a mongoose.

I’ve not seen suricats, although I understand they are in this region. Nor have I seen monkeys, but am likely too, as several were spotted by my seat mates on a mini-bus ride home from town the other day.

I’ve picked up a book from the library that will help me interpret “signs” of wildlife (spoor, tracks, etc.) in the area, so I’ll know what is around, even if I can’t see it. (Most wildlife move about in the night; PC volunteers aren't allowed out at night--not that I would really want to be out at night.)

So yesterday, I was practicing my Setswana, when I decided it would be more fun to plan a trip. :-)

So, I planned a trip and it was great fun. I was so excited and when I called my family to share my excitement they were very confused. (They knew I was planning to travel next week, in light of the holiday season, but understood I was only traveling only to Pretoria. I am only traveling to Pretoria.)

Now, a bit about me and travel/vacations. I’m the kind of person that likes to choose one spot, go, and hang out and put my feet up. I’m not the type of person that chooses a spot and likes to see every sight to see within a 500 mile radius.  Also, for the mode of transportation, I want the least-painful way to go.  And lastly, I like to go off-season to avoid the "too many people."  And of course, expense plays a huge determiner in where I go, how long I stay, etc.

And because I live debt-free (yay!), I must save money before I go.

On coming to South Africa, my "must see before I leave" was Kruger Park. There are many reasons to go to Kruger Park: many go to see Africa's "big five" (lion, buffalo, elephant, giraffe, rhino); it's a huge park, HUGE; and of course, it is a large, remaining stand of wild-African habitat.  I would love to see it.

I want to go to Kruger see a baobab tree.  In fact, the only thing I'm truly interested in, in seeing here in Africa, is a baobab tree.  Sadly, I learned quickly, that I'm too far south to see a baobab tree.  They are in Kruger Park, but they are in the far northern reaches of the park (that I wouldn't be able to get to).  I could probably find a baobab tree in Pretoria's botanical gardens.  (I did see a small baobab tree from the airplane window when we stopped in Dakar for refuelling.)

But after spending time in South Africa, and after reading lots of South African history, my original hopes have changed somewhat.  How could I come to South Africa, spend two years, AND NOT SEE CAPE TOWN?  How could I not lay my eyes on Table Mountain?  How could I not visit Robbins Island?  Everything about the contemporary South Africa of today originated in Capetown.  Also, there is hiking and the BEACH.  :-)

Another thing I've decided is that I want to travel in South Africa by TRAIN.  There are several reasons for this. 

I hate traveling on the public mini-buses.  Hate it, hate it, hate it.  I could fly, but am not crazy about it.  Could use an inter-cape bus (like Greyhound), but not crazy about it.

I'd like to travel by train.  I've never been on a train.  Train travel in South Africa is rumored to take quite a bit more time, but there is nothing I like better than sitting by a window and staring out the window.  :-)  (Especially by a window that allows me personal space and safety, those wonderful things not provided on the public mini-buses.)

My dad has a life-long interest in trains.  In fact, before I came to SA, I had hoped that our family could plan a short train trip on Amtrack to Chicago, something in the way of a long weekend.  I thought that the more energetic of our family could be wildly entertained in the Windy City, while my dad and I, (and anyone else who wanted to) could remain posted up somewhere, relaxing and chatting and catching up.  Sadly, we didn't get to take our family trip...

Also, when I was volunteering in AK, my aunt had wanted to come and take a train trip through the Alaskan wonderland.  She had wanted to do this for years, and suggested she come since I was staying in AK.  But I refused on the count of the expense.  In hindsight I wish I had agreed: it may have been a "once in a lifetime" opportunity for her. 

Hey, maybe we could plan such a family trip when I return!  You guys wanna do a train trip in AK?  I'll start saving my rand and you start saving your pennies!  :-)

(Am not sure of the plural spelling of rand. Is it ten RAND or ten RANDS?  I've seen it handled both ways.)

Ooops, I digress.

So ANYWAY, I'm so excited because I've figured out a way to safely travel in South Africa: by train!  I'm so excited!!

Many of the volunteers are travelling far for this holiday period.  I felt uneasy taking such an extended trip because a) I'm not sure how my money is playing out; and b) I need lots of time to plan a trip; and c) I had hoped to spend my holiday time preparing for next year's teaching.  (More on that tomorrow, perhaps.)

PC doesn't "pay" us well enough to travel: that's not why we're here.  And they don't  "pay" us well enough to save for travel, but I'm going to try. (PC doesn't pay us a salary; they provide us with a "living allowance."

I'm figuring that if I pinch my pennies--or rand/s--hard enough, I can probably swing a trip to Capetown by April 2011.  If I pinch a bit harder, I might be able to swing October 2010.  I'm so excited!!

Several of you are sending money and have asked  "how much?"  I didn't really know until yesterday, when I sat down and figured all of this out.  THANK YOU for sending me $.  I will put it toward a trip (unless you request otherwise) and THANK YOU!

It was fun figuring this out and doing comparisons.  I was surprised that my food costs--both groceries and eating out--are similar to those I have in the US.

$5 buys me a round-trip fare to my shopping town (Vryburg), a nice bottle of bubble bath, or a South African greeting card that I will send YOU!  :-)

$9 buys me a nice lunch out: a burger or salad

$14 buys me a cot in a BackPackers hostel for one night or a cotton throw rug for my room.

$17 buys me an expensive steak dinner

$19 buys me a round-trip ride on the public mini-bus to Kimberley

$21 buys me international postage for a month or a nice dress

$27 buys me the hard-back South African dictionary I have my eye on

$34 buys me phone usage--international, local, text messages--for a month or a night's stay in a private room in the BackPackers hostel

$48 buys me a round-trip ride on the public mini-bus ride to Pretoria

$55 buys me groceries for a week

$130 buys me a weekend in Kuruman (lodging, meals, transport)

$180 buys me a long weekend in Kimberley (lodging, meals, transport)

$190 buys me groceries for a month

$268 buys me a week in Pretoria (lodging, meals, transport)

$350 buys me a week at the Indian Ocean (Durban, Port Elizabeth, or East London with (lodging, meals, transport)

$400 gets me to Capetown

$750 gets me to Kruger with a two-day, backpacking safari

So thank you for coming along on my fantastical journey. As I was recently reminded, "If I'm going to live in a fantasy world, it might as well be one I like!"  (Instead of worrying about what all can possibly go wrong here in SA.)

Soon, Karen

ps. Photos of the striped mouse and mongoose are from: striped mouse

pss.  It is likely that I get to Kruger with a group of PC volunteers and at much less expense.

psss. (?)  Peace Corps allots us R2291 per month, which is about 312 American dollars. 

pssss.  BackPackers is a very inexpensive hostel-type accomodation that many volunteers use.  They have BackPackers all over South Africa.