Day One on the Africa Trail
Trip Start Jul 01, 2009
89Trip End Dec 22, 2009
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We arrived to the truck by 6am in order to get a "good" locker on the bus. When we arrived there was another couple there already and we all began chatting as more people came and groggily got into line for the lockers. Then we were let in and we jammed all our stuff in the locker and claimed seats for what was to become our home for the next 41 days. Then we went into the hostel and had a delicious breakfast; I ate French toast and savored every bite of what I imagined to be a food I wouldn't have for a long time. Little by little other people trickled in as well and pretty soon almost our entire group was having breakfast at the bar and exchanging background stories. By 7:30am or so we were loaded on the bus and ready to go.
We learned that we were going to District 6, which used to be an area where a lot of black people lived. When we arrived we looked around in astonishment. There was no sign of houses or apartments or even streets. It was just sparse grass along the side of a road. Apparently the residents had been forced out by the government and made to move into townships outside of town. We went into a museum that commemorated the former neighborhood and its people. The walls were colorful and interesting and I was struck by how different this “museum” was then the precise tidy museums I’m used to seeing. There were poems on the floor and tapestries of maps to go with black and white photos of people and street signs piled up to the ceiling.
Our next stop was a Township Tour to see where people had been moved and how they lived. When we arrived Heini, our guide, asked us not to give the children candy (as that would turn them into beggers when foreigners came). As we drove into the township we were greeted on the one hand with dilapidated structures that balanced on each other and looked to be hastily built and on the other by children running along with our truck and cheering happily at seeing us.
After walking around outside we were led into one of the “dormitory” structures. Single men had been segregated from the single women and each room was tiny yet held tons of bunk beds squished together. Today the dormitories are home to hundreds of families, each family staying in one room. We crowded in and looked around incredulously, I could almost touch all four walls standing in one place and the shy owner informed us that eight members of his family lived there. It was astounding. Yet the children ran around barefoot in the courtyard yelling and shouting happily, huge smiles on their faces and a sense of mischief as they grabbed our hands and asked to be swung.
Next we walked over to where they are building concrete homes for people with running water that the people can’t afford, each identical apartment sharing walls and painted bright colors in a long row. We also visited a witch doctor. He had the carcasses of dead animals and animal parts strung up all over the ceiling and hanging down. However it had definitely become a tourist thing, because there were vendors outside his door and once inside although he was wearing what looked to be a traditional costume I could see the glow of a cell phone peeking out.
For lunch we went to an outdoor restaurant that was pumping dance music and strung up with banners saluting Harley Davidsons of which there were many riders. Sitting around a huge table they brought out huge platters of meat and a big plate of random things for me. Gabe walked around with some of the guys admiring the Harley's while everyone got to know each other. I'm the only vegetarian on the tour which has caused a bit of teasing, but that's okay.
Back on the bus Gabe and I made friends with the people sitting around us at the tables. There were Lance and Aussie and Francine from Brazil, then Kevin and Krista also from Australia, and Chris and Hollie from England. We liked them all immediately and talked the whole ride to the bushcamp, stopping on a beach with a view of Table Mountain (where the guys accidentally left the rugby ball) and also occasionally to use the “bush” toilet, which some of the girls were really reticent about trying.
We arrived that evening to our first camp on the outskirts of a winery. It was a bushcamp, meaning there were no bathroom facilities or electricity. We had basically pulled off the side of the road and we watched as Anthony gave us instructions about how to set up our tents. As the sun set and we all began setting up we could hear the strains of African singing from a bush town nearby. The guys threw the football around and Hieni began directing the cooking group in dinner.