Wednesday, April 29, 2009

In Singapore....

Hey Everyone,
I can't write much now because we are trying to cram some tourism into our short stay here in Singapore.  I just wanted to send a quick note saying that we arrived safely in Singapore yesterday morning after a 4 hour delay and a 10 hour flight.
We did walk around the Little India neighborhood in which we were staying.  Today we hope to take a city tour on one of those tourist style buses.
More to come later...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pole Dancing in Durban

Greetings Everyone,
As I'm sitting in the airport, waiting for our delayed flight to Singapore, I figured I would try to catch up on a few blog posts I started and never quite finished.  Sean already covered our stops along the Wild Coast, including Cintsa and Port St. Johns, but I don't think either of us mentioned much about Durban.  Before I get to Durban, however, I just wanted to add a few things about the Wild Coast. 
The Wild Coast is by far, the most undeveloped part of the country we've visited.  One of the most interesting things about the drive through, aside from all the beautiful scenery, was the sheer number of stray farm animals along the side of the road.  I've never seen so many goats, cows, and sheep in my life.  They are literally everywhere, just chowing down on grass, and they aren't fences or anything separating them from the fields and the roads.  They usually don't jump out into the street or anything and the drivers are obviously used to them, but it would make me quite nervous to drive in such conditions.  A few times, we had to stop to let cross cross the road.  Once, when a group of cows was crossing, one of them stopped in front of the bus, turned and looked at us for a moment, then continued on, slowly, across the road.  It was cute, but strange.  We also saw a large herd of cows just relaxing on the beach in Port St. Johns.  They had their section of the beach and the people had theirs.  I captured a few pictures of them so be sure to check them out in the Photo Album. 
I've had a lot of firsts here in South Africa.  As Sean mentioned, we went horseback riding in Cintsa.  This was my very first time on a horse and while I can't say I had to do much given the well behaved horse I was assigned, it did require some balance to stay on.  The only scary part was when we were trekking through some brush and turned a corner and all of a sudden my horse jumped sideways and almost freaked out.  Apparently, she got spooked by a group of cows she didn't see right away.  She settled down quickly once she realized it was nothing and luckily didn't rear up and throw me off.  Other than that, it was nice to try the different riding styles along the beach and the two and a half hour ride made the money spent well worth it.  I was quite sore for a few days following the ride, but it was fun trying something new being the city boy I am.
Golfing in Port St. Johns was also a first for me.  I went to a driving range with Sean when we were in Myrtle beach last summer, but this was my first time playing a round.  While I can't say I'll become the fanatic that Sean is, I can better appreciate the technical skill and precision involved and the difficulty in being consistent, which can easily make the game addictive as you try to improve your shots and get better at the game.  It was also nice to play with the local teenager we met on the course, even though he would have kicked my ass too if we were actually keeping score. 
Once we arrived in Durban, South Africa, we stayed at a Hostel called Happy Hippo.  We had a few business things to accomplish so we didn't really spend much time sight-seeing or checking out different parts of the city.  We mostly isolated ourselves in the hostel, but still had a great time every night in the hostel bar.  There wasn't really much near the hostel anyway, other than Marine World, which is a huge complex with a water park, aquarium, and lots of shops and restaurants.  Luckily, the hostel has a nice rooftop bar where we've met some really great people and had many drunken nights of fun.  A really cool Zulu girl named Bridgette was working at the hostel bar the first couple nights we were here, but Thursday, her friends from Mozambique arrived and she had the weekend free to party.  Don, the regular bartender, worked the weekend and in between mixing drinks he was kicking ass on the pool table.  Throw in a sexy Ginger, a laughing German girl, a tall surfer dude, a shy interracial German couple (that can actually dance better than most of us once they loosen up), a South African Clark Kent, a hung Chaldean, and a sneaky French girl and you have one crazy party.  But as we learned over the course of a few nights, no party is complete without a pole.  As the nights went on and the drinks flowed, I think everyone found themselves on the pole at one point or another.  We also had dancing on tables, shirts coming off, and even a few bare asses on display.  The best part about it all is that we have at pictures AND videos of everything, and I'm sure everyone in the group has a few photos or videos they would rather see deleted. 
Bridgette was a big Chris Rock fan and we were laughing about a line he had in one of his stand-up routines.  He mentioned his newborn baby girl and said that as a father, his only responsibility in life was to keep her off the pole.  Apparently, some of our fathers didn't have the same convictions when raising us. 

Hannes and Robyn: Last post about South Africa

Greetings All,
Well, I think I am finally caught up with blog posts from South Africa.  Ozell is writing some also so hopefully he will tell you things that I didn't.  Oh,  one thing to ask us about (maybe I will write about it) is the two strange characters we met in the hostels in Johannesburg and Cape Town.   They were very interesting...
But I did want to mention the excellent time we had again at Cape Town Deco Lodge.  We returned to this hostel because we really enjoyed our first stay there.  Hannes and Robyn, the owners, run a great hostel.  The beds, linens, garden, common spaces, staff, and the both of them are all top notch.  Ozell and I are really regretting that we did not take a picture of Hannes and Robyn.  It just slipped our mind.  We did take the two of them out to dinner the last night we were in town.  They recommended a restaurant in the Observatory neighborhood.  The restaurant was located inside an old house in which Robyn remembered visiting friends when the place was a communal living house.  The Observatory neighborhood was a slum not too long ago, but like many places, it has become home to a bohemian subset consisting of students, artists, and others.  It would be a neighborhood I could live in if I lived in Cape Town.
Anyways, the dinner was pleasant.  We got the chance to talk with Hannes and Robyn and learn a little more about them.  I hope that our paths cross again in the future.  Hannes and Robyn are friendly, hospitable, and fun people.

Stellenbosch and the Winery Tour

As you know, Ozell and I did not want to spend our last week in South Africa just in Johannesburg.  Ideally, we would have liked to have gone to Victoria Falls in Zambia and/or to Mozambique.  Unfortunately due to cost and other logistics, we did not make it to those places.  Not going to Victoria Falls was a bummer since we both had that very high up on our list for places to visit in Africa.  But I do not have too much regret because of our trip to Iguacu Foz in Brazil.  Victoria Falls has a very similar look and scale to Iguacu.
We did find a reasonable round trip ticket to Cape Town so we headed there since we knew we would not be prisoners in our hostel.  One of the nice things about returning to Cape Town was that we were able to take a winery tour in the Stellenbosch area outside of Cape Town.  Stellenbosch is analogous to Napa Valley in California.  We stopped at four wineries for tastings (usually 5-6 different wines of our choosing).  We also had a nice cheese tasting at the first winery.  I was also able to smoke a couple joints during a couple of our stops.  The strange thing was that neither of us liked any of the wines.  It was very strange considering how much we have enjoyed the wine in South Africa and had bottles from some of the same vineyards during our previous meals.  This is not to say that the day was not enjoyable.   We both expected that we would buy a bottle or two to bring back to the hostel, but we did not buy any wine at all.
Stellenbosch is a rural, university town.  It is just 45 minutes outside of Cape Town and is pretty idyllic.  It reminds me a lot of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.  The streets were tree lined and the fall colors were starting to show.

Johannesburg- the Apartheid Museum

Hello Everyone,
It is Tuesday afternoon, and Ozell and I are waiting to board our flight to Singapore.  These posts aren't going to show up until we are already in Singapore because we have no internet access until then.
We stayed in Johannesburg last night at a third, different hostel.  It was reasonably close to the airport and had some decent reviews online.  But the same criticisms were applicable for this place also: we couldn't walk very far from the hostel, there were no shops or restaurants nearby, they advertised WiFi access but did not have it (or claimed they didn't know the security code), and their bar was out of beer.  We were disappointed with the hostels in Rio, but I think Johannesburg's hostels suck the most collectively out of all of the places we have been.
I don't recall if I mentioned in the previous post about Johannesburg that we went to the Apartheid Museum.  That was a very worthwhile museum especially for the $4 entrance fee.  It taught me a lot about how apartheid came into being (I didn't realize that it was introduced only after WWII.  I thought it had been around longer than that), how it changed and mutated, how it survived so long, who opposed it, and how it finally came to an end in 1989-1990.  There is too much about the museum to write about here, but I will mention the entrance because it was a very cool idea that had an immediate impact...
When we were at the ticket counter, Ozell received a "Colored Person" ticket, and I received a "White Person" ticket.  We walked around the corner to the actual museum entrance.  At this point, we each had to go into separate entrances.  I was allowed in the "Whites Only" entrance, and Ozell was forced into the "Coloreds" entrance.  The inside of the museum was also segregated.  We each had to make our way through separate passages lined with metal bars and fences.  On each side of us and in between us, there were oversized ID cards showing real South Africa citizens and their government established race.  Whites were the top social class.  Then came full blooded Indians.  Then other Asians and Coloreds (mixed race people).  Last were the Blacks.  Typically, if you had traits or drops of blood from a lower social class, then you were classified in the lower class.  The quality of public facilities, political rights, public services, education, and many other things were strictly based on your racial classification.  The other fascinating thing was how do you go about classifying the races of a population when there had been so much racial mixing already?  The answer was that Whites (often untrained and completely ignorant of their tasks) went around and classified people pretty much only on their personal hunches, prejudices, and common sense.  There ostensibly was also a point system to help with the classification including:  race of parents, native language, color of eyes, literacy.  But the point system also contained such scientific gems such as: curliness of hair and if you stuck a pencil in your hair could you shake it out with one shake (true!).
We were joined up at the end of this part of the museum and could see the rest together, but at first, you weren't sure whether the whole museum was this way or not.
The pic is of a sunset over Jburg from our second hostel.  Not a very pretty pic because the air pollution here is very bad.  I think it is one of the worst cities in the world in that aspect.
Cheers for now,

Monday, April 27, 2009

San Pass- the highest pub in Africa

Sani Pass is the name of the pass we took to get in Lesotho.  Like I mentioned you need a 4x4 vehicle to be allowed on the road.  At the top of the pass, a few ambitious people built a small inn and pub.  The pub purports to be the highest pub in all of Africa.  The Sani Pass is 2865 meters high (9400 feet).  The tallest mountains nearby are another 800-1000 meters up.
Take a look at the road.  I assure you- this was one of the nicest and most passable sections...  Lol

Lesotho: the Tibet of Africa

Lesotho was worth the day trip.  We only saw a small part of the country of course, but we were told that 80% of the area is the same as the small part we saw.  There are some valleys and lowlands which contain the largest numbers of people because of the more favorable weather conditions.  However, most of the country consists of high altitude plains.  There are no trees.  There are only small shrubs, some wispy grasses, rock, and lichen.  The people who do live in these high altitude places are shepherds.  They live in rock rondavel homes.  The shepherds are mainly teenage boys who initially work for an established shepherd who, will give the younger shepherd a few sheep or goats each year if he does a good job watching the older shepherd's flock.  In this manner, the younger shepherd will build up his own flock as he gets older.  It is a hard and isolated life.  Many of the boys go to school while they are young, but then drop out and become shepherds after they complete their coming-of-age ceremony.  The girls stay in school longer and also continue on with higher education.  This is why if you go to Lesotho's main cities most of the professional class are women.
Lesotho also happens to be one of the largest fresh water reservoirs in the world.  The soil is just one big sponge.  They sell this natural resource to South Africa which is very happy to have some water security in this ever water short world.
Here is a pic of a typical Lesotho rondavel.  These stone huts are engineered very well.  The hearth is in the center and depressed into the mud and stone floor.  Underneath the mud covering the floor are hollow channels that stem out from the hearth.  This allows even a small fire to heat the entire floor via air passages underneath.  The roof is designed to let the smoke of the fire out and keep the snow and rain from getting into the hut.  Smoke and soot from the fire also helps waterproof the straw thatch roof.
Ozell had some homemade bread from one of the locals.  I was not feeling well so I did not partake.

Interesting Bugs...

One of the nice things that we began to observe more often once we got into the Wild Coast and the Drackensberg is the different types of insects they have here.  Most of the insects still have familiar cousins in North America, but many are much more exotic looking than our species.  Grasshoppers look as if they have been intricately hand painted and not just generically green.  Beetles and locusts are also more varied in color.
Here is a pic of a locust type of bug with some neat red coloring.  This wasn't even close to the most interesting bugs we have seen, but it is the only one of which we have a pic...

The Drackensberg Mountains...

With our bus pass, we had the choice of two different routes from Durban to Johannesburg.  We could have gone north along the coast and then inland through Swaziland, but we chose to go inland from Durban towards the Drackensberg Mountains and the mountain kingdom of Lesotho.
My Father would have loved this area especially our day trip into Lesotho.  The southern Drackensberg (Dragon's Mountain) are very beautiful.  The mountains are ancient basalt flows from volcanoes.  They rise quickly and steeply from the rolling farmlands below.  The mountains form the eastern border of the mountain kingdom of Lesotho which is an independent country encircled by South Africa.  Lesotho was never conquered by either Zulus or Europeans largely due to its natural mountain defenses. 
We took the Sani Pass road from the South African side and snaked our way up the mountain pass.  The Drackensberg are the highest mountains in Africa excluding Kilimanjaro.  The only road into Lesotho from this side is the Sani Pass which is more of a trail of rubble and boulders than it is a road.  A high clearance 4x4 is required.  You will not be permitted on the road in anything else.  The road is single-lane and carved out of the side of the mountain bluffs.  It makes the climb up to the pass at almost 10,000 feet.  The Sani Valley is very beautiful.  The attached pic is looking back down the valley from a point about 1/3 of the way up.
Once we have the rest of the pics posted to the album, they will be worth a look.

Durban: Taxes, healthcare, and a self contained hostel

Ozell and I were not feeling very adventurous in Durban.  We did not want to venture out at night to different parts of the city for clubs.  We were and are still feeling the sting from our incident in Port Elizabeth.  But we enjoyed a small part of Durban along the ocean.  A major marine development was very close to our hostel so we ate at their restaurants almost every night.  Again, we had access to an abundance of cheap seafood and wine.  We walked up the coast one day.  Ozell was also able to see a dentist about his teeth.
The best thing about our stay in Durban though was the Happy Hippo hostel.  The hostel was clean and very spacious.  It also had large common areas with the rooms lining the perimeter.  The overall feel was that of and urban loft.  However, our good time at the hostel had less to do with the physical layout as it did with the roof top bar and the patrons there.  The roof top bar was a nice combination of covered and open air space.  A large thatched straw roof covered the bar, seating, and pool table area.  The rest of the roof was open to the sun/sky.  Many of the bar's patrons were guests of the hostel, but it was also open to the public.  It was just a simple bar.
Because of the guests, we had a great time at the bar almost every night.  We made some friends with the barmaid and some other travelers.  People were friendly and we had fun being silly.  It also helped that I still had some good weed from Port St. John's and was able to find an area to smoke.  :)
Oh!  check out the TV in the attached pic to this post.  Yep!  That's right!  I was able to get them to turn on some of The Masters golf tournament on Friday and Saturday nights.  Hahahahaha   I didn't learn who won to over a week later though because we left on Sunday to head to our next stop...  Drackensberg.

Leaving Africa: Time to get updated on this blog...

Hello Everyone,
We flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg early this morning (we were picked up at the hostel at 4am).  We are just relaxing today (actually we have been sleeping).  It is now almost 3pm.  We fly to Singapore tomorrow, but I think we arrive the following day.  We are currently 6 hours ahead of US east coast time and 9 hours ahead of west coast.  Ozell looked up Singapore's time zone yesterday, but I forget what he told me.  I think he said it was another 5-6 hours ahead of here which will put us 11-15 hours ahead of the US.  I guess this will be the farthest we are from home.  We will start to get closer again after SE Asia.
So, it is time to get caught up on some blog posts.  That has been the unfortunate side effect with the shitty internet access here in South Africa.  We have fallen behind on posts and especially on posting pics to the photo albums.  I did upload some more yesterday, but there is still a way to go.  Hopefully, the internet will be more reliable and cheaper in Singapore.
Here we go...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Back in Cape Town....

Hello Everyone,
(Excuse my grammar and spelling in my posts.  After I read them online, I see they are atrocious.  lol)
Ozell and I were unable to move up our flight to Singapore.  But since roundtrip tickets from Jburg to Cape Town and back were only $120, we decided to fly to Cape Town in order to enjoy our last week in South Africa.  Cape Town seemed to be the safest city here, and we really like the hostel we stayed in the first time so we are back at Cape Town Deco Lodge with Hannes and Robyn.
We just arrived yesterday and will be here until Monday morning when we fly back to Jburg for the day before moving on to SE Asia.  The nice thing about returning to Cape Town (besides not being a prisoner in our hostel) is that we hope to do a couple activities we missed out on the first time we were here:  climbing to the top of Lion's Head which is another mountain encircling the town and which also faces west and is suppose to be a great place for a sunset; and going on a winery tour in the Stellenbosch area which everyone said we should not have skipped the first time.  Ozell and I do like our wine!
Also, we will hopefully be able to get got up on some blog posts.  We have good internet access here, but unfortunately, this is the location that makes you pay by the Mb you upload and download so uploading pictures will still need to be delayed.
Maybe I will be lucky enough to find some more local guys before moving on the SE Asia too.  And for all of you who think I am a "rice queen", yes, I am looking forward to going to SE Asia.  Hahahahaha

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Johannesburg- a city which is our prison...

Hello Everyone,
Ozell and I are ready to leave South Africa.  We are burned out concerning this country and continent.  We want to move on to Southeast Asia.  Unfortunately, the shitty internet service in this country and especially the hostels is costing us valuable time because we are unable to communicate with our travel agent back home or make our own arrangements online.  For a country that attempts to claim it is "first world", South Africa is worst than Bolivia or Peru when it comes to internet bandwidth, speed, and general availability.  In fact, it doesn't even compare to Peru or Bolivia.  SA is the worst country that we have traveled to yet concerning anything digital.
Anyways, since we are just wasting our time here, I thought I would catch up on some blog posts.  Although no one will probably see these posts until we are already in Singapore due once again to the completely shitty internet access here.
I'm sure that Johannesburg (Jburg) has very nice sides to it, but unfortunately we feel more like prisoners in our own hostel.  Even if the hostel is in a decent neighborhood, most people tell us not to walk very far in wither direction unless we want trouble.  I am not sure how they are going to handle the World Cup coming here in 2010.
Anyways, we are fine and looking forward to Asia even though it is going to be their monsoon season.  Lol.
More to come....

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

KFC and Calloused Feet

Hey Everyone,
Yesterday marked two milestones for our trip.  Since we departed San Diego on October 14, 2008, yesterday marked six months of traveling.  We're only on our second continent and will be here for two more weeks, so we still have a way to go before we get home, but it looks like we are definitely more than half-way through our trip now.  Yesterday also marked four weeks that we've been here in South Africa.  We've visited a lot of cities and towns here and have had a good time overall, but I think both of us are anxious to get moving again to the next stop.  As usual, I've made a few more observations about the people, culture, and country since we've been here over the past month so I'd like to share a few of those with you. 
Internet Access:  South Africa has had the most limited internet access of any country we've visited so far.  When we are able to find connections, it's very slow and very expensive and there seems to be little different between the speed and availability in major cities versus small towns.  WI-FI is almost non-existent.  I cannot understand why the country seems to be so far behind in this area.  Even Peru and Bolivia, two of the poorest countries in South America, had reasonable internet access in the places we visited.  But in South Africa, even in the places you would expect to find the best connections, like internet cafes, using the internet is tedious at best.  This would normally not be a big issue; we've traveling after all, not here to spend all day online; but unfortunately, we've had business to take care of and not having internet access has made that difficult.  It's frustrating enough having to file taxes while you're out of the country and living out of a backpack; it's another thing to file taxes online when you don't have a reliable internet connection.
Shoes:  We've noticed a lot of people, especially from the Wild Coast to Durban, prefer to go barefoot... all the time.  Not just walking around the hostel or at the beach, but walking to and from the beach or the store, while driving, in all sorts of public places and everywhere else in between.  And it's not just your hippie types in the small towns.  It just seems to be part of the culture, among blacks and whites, to go barefoot whenever possible.  I'm sure it's more comfortable after a while, but when you see what some of the terrain looks like, it's no wonder some of the people we've seen can walk on broken glass and gravel roads without even thinking.
Language: This has been one of the most interesting things about South Africa.  The country has 11 official languages.  Most people speak English and may have spoken English since birth, but English for most people is still secondary to whatever primary language they speak.  Among Blacks, Xhosa and Zulu have been the most common in the places we've visited, while Afrikaans has been the most common among Whites.  I have rarely seen to blacks speaking English to each other, whether on the street amongst friends or in a business with strangers.  The same is true among Whites, especially the older Whites.  Occasionally, you will see a Black person and a White person speaking to each other in a language other than English, but that has been rare.  Half the time, when I go into a store or business alone, if the person working is Black, they will speak to me in Xhosa.  As soon as they realize I am not a local, they quickly switch to English... usually.  If Sean and I go out together, to a restaurant for example, even though all the staff has usually been Black, they will always approach us in English. 
I like that so many different languages are still spoken in one country and I have always found it important to retain native languages.  It is especially nice to see so many Blacks speaking multiple languages because it's very rare to find back home.  But however great it is, not speaking the language is a constant reminder to myself that I am different and, like our experience in PE, it can also be a liability since it immediately identifies me to others as a tourist.  For whatever reason, it was much easier for me to blend in while in Brazil than it has been here, even before I learned any Portuguese.
McDonalds vs KFC:  Unlike everywhere else in the world, McDonalds has not really made inroads here in South Africa.  And like Black people back home, Black people here LOVE their fried chicken.  In South Africa, KFC is KING.  There is a KFC on every corner in the big cities like Cape Town, but even in the small towns like Port St. Johns, with a population of 1500-2000 people, you can still find a KFC.  I'm not a big fan of KFC back home; I prefer Popeye's, but I had been anxious to try KFC here since I first saw one in Cape Town.  I can't remember the last time I had fried chicken, but I waited until we were in Durban and looking for a quick dinner to test it out.  All in all, it was good, not much different than back home.  And the best thing about it was the cost.  I had a special meal deal consisting of a chicken sandwich, an original recipe chicken breast, fries, and mashed potatoes with gravy for about $4 USD. 
Cigarettes:  Everyone smokes but no one ever has cigarettes.  Like many places in the world, including back home in San Diego, you can't walk down the street smoking without someone asking you for a cigarette.  The difference here in South Africa is, almost EVERY person you pass will ask you for a cigarette.  On the rare occasion someone does have their own cigarettes, nine times out of ten, they will still ask you for a light.  It's so predictable, it's pathetic.  Granted, at $2.50 a pack, cigarettes here are more expensive than they were anywhere in South America, but remember, this country is not as poor as those in South America, and like my philosophy back home, if you can't afford to buy your own cigarettes, then it should be that much easier to just quit.  Like I said, it happens everywhere, even back in the States, so it wouldn't normally bother me so much.  Unfortunately, that's how the guys who jumped us originally approached me.  Since then, every time someone asks me for a cigarette, I am reminded of the assault, which is painful enough to be reminded of.  But since I'm still here in the same country where I was attacked, anytime a stranger approaches me and asks for a cigarette, I have to ask myself, what will this person do if I say no?  Do they really just want a cigarette or are they sizing me up for some other purpose?  I don't like to think the worst about people, but that is the result of my experience here.  And I only have so many teeth.  I typically don't even smoke anymore when I'm walking down the street, especially if there are other people around.  That has been hard for me since, in a country where you can't smoke indoors, outside is usually the only option.  Yet another reason why I'm ready to move on and leave this country.   
That's all for now.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

My Second Trip to a Dentist

Hello Everyone,
I've obviously not blogged in a couple weeks now so lots of things have been building up in my head.  Part of me hasn't felt like blogging much after our experience in Port Elizabeth since no matter what happens in South Africa, everything will always be overshadowed by the attack.  That's what really sucks about having a bad experience while traveling.  Of course one should not let a bad experience ruin your vacation; and you definitely shouldn't base your entire opinion of a place on the bad experience.  But while those things are easy to say, reality is simply quite different.
We've also had limited access to the internet since we left Cape Town.  Some of the hostels we've stayed in have had computers with internet access and there have been internet cafes here and there, but WI-FI has been almost non-existent and any access we have found has been pretty expensive compared to other places we've been.  Nevertheless, we have access for the moment here in Durban, but since it's the first major city we've been in since Cape Town, we've had to take care of some more important business items first, so the blog and Face Book have been in the back rather than forefront of my mind. 
I am very happy to say that I accomplished two important things on my agenda since arriving in Durban.  First, I finished my taxes, both federal and state!  Taxes have been more of an issue and stress for Sean because of the looming April 15th deadline.  But as most people are not aware, the deadline only applies to those who owe taxes and have to pay.  If, on the other hand, you are due to receive a refund, you have three years to file and collect that refund.  Obviously, Uncle Sam is happy to hold onto your money for as long you like.  The key is knowing whether or not you owe, which usually means you have to do your taxes and if you are going to do them, you may as well file them.  I have always received a refund with the exception of last year when I made a little money from the sale of some company stock which increased my tax liability due to capital gains.  This year, I knew I would receive a refund because, although I still sold some company stock, everything I sold was at a huge loss so I didn't add anything to my income and was able to actually reduce my income because of my "capital losses".  Combine this with the fact that taxes were being withheld based on my annual income, but I didn't end up working the entire year since I was laid off.  The resulting income tax return isn't enough to make up for the money I lost through ACADIA, but it will be enough to add to the travel fund, which in my case, is slowly disappearing after six months of traveling.  Sean convinced me to use Turbo Tax this year, which I usually refuse to do on principle; I don't believe I should have to pay to do something the government requires me to do.  I find it ludicrous that I have to pay to e-file, which makes it much easier for the government, so I normally do my taxes by hand, with pen on printed forms, and mail them in the old-fashioned way.  It means waiting a couple weeks longer for my refund, but I like the fact that someone at the IRS office has to manually enter all the info from my handwritten forms into a computer.  It's my way of creating more work for the government since they created more work for me.  Doing my taxes by hand is a little more complicated, however, while being out of the country.  I would have to mail the forms back to the states and upon receiving a check have the check mailed to me to endorse and then mail it back to the States to be deposited.  The cost of all the mailing would easily exceed the cost of Turbo Tax and make the time until I receive my money much longer, so that's why I gave in.  Now, I'll receive a nice refund from the federal government in a couple weeks.  Who knows when California will send me my refund since they declared at the beginning of the year that they're broke and won't be sending out refund checks anytime soon.  I swear, I should be entitled to interest and fees, but I learned of the government's double standards a long time ago.
The second thing I accomplished here in Durban was seeing a dentist: my second urgent visit to a dentist since we've been on this trip.  I got a recommendation from Mick, an English guy staying at our hostel who's been living here in South Africa for eleven years.  The dentist he recommended was pretty far away, but it was a private clinic and they were able to get me in right away.  The other option was the "free" clinic just down the street, which I actually tried calling first but they never even answered the phone.  When I was talking to Mick about it in the bar, he said the free clinic was one of those places you end up waiting for seven hours to be treated even if you're bleeding, have open wounds or broken bones, so I'm glad I didn't bother going there.  The clinic I went to, MediCross, had an outpatient medical facility and a separate dental office all in the same building.  The interesting thing about it was, unlike almost every place I've been here in South Africa, everyone who worked in the dentist office was white (and speaking Afrikaans), with the exception of the dentist, who was Indian.  The other patients in the waiting room were all white with the exception of an Indian couple.  As a side note, Durban has one of the largest Indian populations outside of India and we were told they are actually the most affluent racial group here in Durban.  Anyway, the wait was short, the dentist was great and the news I received during the consultation was as good as it could be, all things considered. 
Sean mentioned the details of the attack so I won't rehash that other than to describe my injuries again.  I have a busted ear drum, which seems to be healing as expected.  There isn't much you can do for a busted ear drum other than wait and hope it heals.  If you've never had a busted ear drum, it feels similar to having an ear infection, but with more hearing loss and more throbbing.  My hearing is slowly coming back, but it's still difficult to hear when there's lots of background noise, such as in a bar.  The rest of my injuries resulted from being hit in the mouth with a rock.  The rock was not thrown; the guy had it in his hand and hit me with it.  My lip, which was split open and swollen pretty badly, is healing quite nicely. There is still a small scar where the split was, but it's barely noticeable and even that should diminish over time.  The worst of the damage was to my teeth.  The two middle incisors at the top are chipped, one very minor on the corner and back, which can be easily fixed with a veneer.  The other is broken pretty severely, almost half of the tooth is gone in a diagonal direction and the remaining part of the tooth is a little loose.  The dentist said it could actually be fixed with a filling, but that would only last temporarily and I'll eventually have to get a crown.  The two right incisors on the bottom of my mouth were also jarred hard enough that they are loose and even though they are not chipped, one of these is what is causing the most pain.  The x-rays didn't show any fractures or cracks, even below the gum line, but the trauma has caused the ligaments holding my teeth to my jaw to become inflamed and sore.  The best solution is to stabilize the teeth and wait for them to heal.  He considered putting splints on the three loose teeth, which would involve putting a bond on the neighboring teeth and anchoring a wire around the injured teeth to stabilize them and keep them from moving.  The cost for this actually would not have been much, but since the pain has been lessening on it's own, he recommended waiting another week or two to see how I heal and since we'll be in Joburg around then, if I need to have the splints put on, I could easily find a dentist there to do it.  Part of the reason for this was that if he put the splints on, another dentist would have to take them off because I would have to wear them for six weeks and I have no idea where we'll be in six weeks.  Nevertheless, I am not in danger of loosing any of my teeth and the two top teeth can be fixed, however, I have to wait until everything heals first before they can do that because the dentist said if he had to predict anything, I will probably need to have root canals on the teeth that suffered the most trauma.  The sensitivity I'm experiencing is obviously due to the nerve, which could be damaged and eventually die due to the impact it received.  If the nerve dies, it could lead to even more problems.  Obviously, if I need to have root canals, they'll have to do that before putting on a crown.  He told me what to look out for and how to monitor the teeth to make sure the nerves are still alive and healthy, so I just have to watch, wait and see. 
So even though the dentist couldn't do much in terms of repairs, I received the reassurance I was looking for and know what to look out for until the next visit to a dentist.  The best part of the experience was the bill.  As I mentioned the first time I had to see a dentist on this trip, we are really taken advantage of and ripped off back in the States when it comes to health and dental care.  My dental consultation and x-rays today were only $25, which is less than the cost of the taxi to and from the dental office ($30 USD).  He even gave me copies of the x-rays to show the next dentist!   Even if I would have had the splint's put on, that would have only cost and additional $75.  If I have to have any root canals or other work done before I get home, I'm sure the cost will be more significant so having the travel insurance will come in handy, but at this point, it's not even worth filing a claim since I have a $100 deductible.
So after my trip to the dentist, I guess I can confidently say I'm doing better.  I'm definitely feeling better physically, not 100%, but getting there.  Emotionally, I think I'll have to move on to another country to get to where I want to be.  I'll save those thoughts for another blog post, but like I said above, no matter how much fun I have from now on or what other activities I do or things I see here, my experience in South Africa will always be defined by the assault.  At the very least, I will still write a little about the positive things we've seen and done in South Africa because I would like to remember those things, but the unfortunately reality is that those experiences will never make up for what happened and I guess that's just life. 
More to come soon. 

Port St. John's Golfing, Part II

Port St. John's golf club consists of nine holes with two different sets of tees for each hole so that you could play 18 holes if you wanted.  The greens and fairways overlap and Cris-cross each other.  The grass on the greens is about the length of a plush carpet.  The fairways are the length of the grass on your lawn, and the rough was "rough".  The greens were also the smallest that I have ever played.  The course does require accurate irons because most of the greens were any bigger than 20 feet in diameter.  They were just mowed circles into the rough.  It was delightfully perfect!
We were approached by a local teenager who wanted to join us on hole 2.  It was glad that he did because he told me after I hit my second shot on hole #1 that I was hitting to the completely wrong green.  Lol the score card did not have any kind of map so I was just winging it.  His friend was already waiting at the #2 tee.  He did not play very much. but the 15 year old who asked if he could join us was a pretty decent player.  He played barefoot most of the time and had the most rudimentary of equipment, but he had a good swing.  It was really cool to see.
The pic attached is a panoramic of a portion of the golf course.  It wasn't until I got home and downloaded the pics onto my computer that I paused and had two thoughts as I looked at this pic...
1)  This was the first time that I have ever played golf where I was the only white guy in the foursome.  hahahaha
2)  And a related observation, this was the first time I have ever played golf where I was the only white person on the entire golf course.  ;)
Just was an interesting afterthought...

Port St. John's Golfing, Part II

Here's another pic of Ozell teeing off on a par four.  I wanted to include it because I remember this shot.  He drove it right over the left edge of the tree line with a soft draw.  He tends to naturally draw his drives which many of us would love to be able to do.  He put it out there at about 220 yards.  :)

Ozell at Port St. John's golf club...

Ozell doesn't really have much of an interest in golf.  I do have an interest in golf and enjoy it, but many people mistake my interest as being more serious than it is.  I am by no means a good player or rabid fan, but I do like getting stoned and watching golf on TV when I am home on the weekends.  That pretty much seals the branding of "golf nut" to me because even if the people I meet understand that I enjoy playing golf, they usually can't begin to fathom why anyone would want to watch it on TV.  Lol  
I had read before we arrived that Port St John's had a golf course.  I thought what type of golf course could a town of 1500 people in the poorest area of South Africa have?  I had an idea in my head what it would be like, and it met every one of my expectations.  :)  It was like playing in our backyards again.  :)    The best part was that Ozell expressed an interest in joining me.  Ozell went with me and family members to a driving range in Myrtle Beach.  It was his first time ever swinging a club, and he did pretty well.  This was the first time that Ozell and I have ever been golfing on a golf course, and it was in PORT ST. JOHN'S, South Africa!!!  How fucking cool is that? 
Here is a pic of the new golf addict (not really) in front of the St. John's Golf Club.  Yeah, that dirt patch is the parking lot, and the little building is the clubhouse and lockers.  :)

A pic of Jungle Monkey's bar area...

Here's a pic of part of Jungle Monkey's hostel.  This is of the bar and recreation area albeit only part of the area.  They had some really cool and funky murals.

An excellent evening at the Jungle Monkey hostel...

When Ozell and I were in Port St. John's, we stayed at a hostel called The Jungle Monkey.  It lived up to it's name because one evening when we were sitting on the rooftop deck enjoying the views of the river and coast, we saw a troupe (if that is the right term for a monkey family) of monkeys walking from one tree canopy to another tree canopy on the power wire traversing over the roof of the hostel.  Each one paused and scoped us out as they went by.  The mainly waited for the monkey in front of them to get all of the way across before they started.  It was very cool and unexpected.  And it was the wild.  This hostel is in the middle of the coastal jungle.
But there was even a better experience on Friday night- our first night in the hostel.  The bar area is a pretty well designed space.  And since Jungle Monkey is in a town of just 1500 people, the hostel's bar draws a few locals also.  On Fridays there is a local band that sings and plays.  I don't know if they just play the xylophone or whether they use drums in other shows.  But this night was just xylophones and harmonic singing.  They had a 5 person vocal section with one female lead singer and four back up singers.  The lead singer was pretty damn good.  Besides the singers, there were guys playing the various sized xylophones.  All of the songs were African.  Some may have been old and others more modern, but they were all African.  Hearing African music was one of the things I was looking forward to most on this trip.  I have always enjoyed the sounds I have heard from African and Polynesian cultures.  This band and the show they put on were a very nice surprise.  Of course, having found the weed earlier in the evening made the show that much more enjoyable.  Hahahaha
Here is a pic of the band.  We also have a couple of videos that we can play for you when we return.

Port St John's: The South African Ocean Beach...

After Cintsa, Ozell and I headed to Port St. John's along the ocean.  It is a small port village encircled by flat topped mountains.  The St John's river cut out a gorge in the mountains and deposited the delta upon which the town was built.  Before arriving, we had read that Port St. John's was more of a hippie/beachbum/laidback town.   I have a couple comments...
It was easy to find weed.  I bought a $10 bag that I am going to be able to get at least 30 fat joints out of it.  The weed is also the best that I have had on this trip.  Still not close to the stuff I buy at home, but much better than anywhere else I have been so far.  Our bus driver also mentioned that The Transkei was a weed growing haven and that over 20% of the land area has marijuana cultivated on it.  It is too remote and the accessibility is so hard that the authorities really have limited options.  I say that is all the better and the way it should be.  Lol  I was able to get it from someone at the hostel which was convenient.  It was also only the first of many signs that the staff at this particular hostel were sort of drifting in their own world most of the time.
The truth is that Ozell and I did not experience too much of the town.  I went walking around once by myself.  I had an interesting experience.  For the first time in my life, I was the only white person around.  And I mean the only one.  More than being the only white person, everyone else was black.  There were no other ethnicities around.  South Africa is 85% black, but this was the first time that there were no whites around at all.  It was not weird or scary or overly enlightening, but it was very interesting.  I was a little paranoid.  It is the first time that more than the occasional stare was made.  There were a lot of prolonged stares.  Nothing menacing but enough to make me a little paranoid- the weed obviously would not help.  That experience was reinforced later that day because Ozell and I went golfing together at the Port St. John's Golf Course!  But that is for a following post...
The hostel was also pretty granola and alternative.  Nice facilities, great bar, and some fun people.  The staff was drugged and the cooking crew were not that friendly, but overall, it was another great hostel.
The pic is of the woman worker.  She was an excellent fire twirler / flagger.  She was most likely a rave girl a little bit ago.  She was the best that I have seen personally though.  The pictures don't do her justice.  I wish I had a video of her...

The Transkei & Nelson Mandela's house and village...

Good Evening Everyone,
After leaving Cintsa on the "Wild Coast", we took a bus through an area of the country called "The Transkei".  This is are area of South Africa along the Indian Ocean coast, but I did not know anything about its interesting history until our bus driver told us.  The Transkei gets its name from one of the rivers that forms its border called the Kei River.  The Transkei used to be it's own separate country inside South Africa.  I don't know how independent since I think that guide said they received financial support from the South African government.  It was the poorest part of South Africa and most of the people lived a more traditional lifestyle.  I want to say it is somewhat analogous to a really large Indian reservation in the US.  I am sure there are major differences, but that is the closest comparison I can think of at the moment.  In any case, after the fall of Apartheid, the Transkei was reincorporated into South Africa proper.  This area was also Nelson Mandela's home.  He has a house (a pretty damn nice one compared to the rest) in his village.  He
spends most of his time in Johannesburg though.  The pic attached is his village house.  You can see some of the traditional "Rondavels" in the background.  These cylindrical, mud homes with thatched or sheet metal roofs are the dominant home style in this region. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Horse riding with the Marlborough Women in Cintsa...

Our last full day in Cintsa, Ozell and I went on a horse ride through some of the coastal scrub on the rolling hills and along the beach near our hostel.  The horse tour operator is independent from the hostel, but highly reliant on them for customers.  It was a mother and daughter team whom looked every bit the parts of the Marlborough Women- if you allow yourself to creative license to alter the gender of the Marlborough Man.  Neither were manly, the were country tom boys who spent everyday outdoors and in the sun and rain.  They were rugged and weathered.  I'm sure the two-pack-a-day habit they each had also contributed to their rugged and weathered image.  Hahahaha.
They take in abused and neglected horses and take care of them.  When they are in good health, they are put to work by carrying people on horse rides on nearby trails.  The income the women receive for the horse rides pretty much provides for the care of the horses.  They have about 40 horses of varying size and ability so riders with varying size and ability can be accommodated.  Ozell and I enjoyed the horse ride.  It was only the third time I have been on a horse and my first since I was 14.  It was Ozell's first time.  I think the part that we both liked the most was the opportunity to walk, trot, and cantor with our horses.  My other horse rides have only been walking with one short trot I think.  It was both our first times cantering which is faster than trotting.  I guess it goes, walking, trotting, cantering, and then galloping.  Cantering was pretty fast and fast enough for both of us on that day.  I wouldn't mind trying galloping sometime.  Trotting was the least comfortable- it was very bumpy until you got the rhythm down, but even then, it was hard to stay in that rhythm.  Cantering, although faster, was a much more comfortable body motion.  And that was the most interesting part.  I got to literally feel the difference in the physiology of a two-legged mammal's mechanics of mobility (me) and that of a four-legged mammal's mechanics of mobility (a horse).  Basically, our legs use the same motion between walking, jogging, and sprinting.  We just move our legs more quickly to go faster.  (I know this isn't exactly correct.)  But with the horse's mechanics, body parts move completely differently and at different rhythms for each of the types of motion: walking, trotting, cantering, and galloping.  It was neat to actually feel those differences rather than to just muse over them purely intellectually in my mind.
Here is a pic from the ride.  There will be more posted in the photo album soon.

Buccaneer's Hostel in Cintsa, South Africa & another Scat tale...

In Cintsa, we stayed in another excellent South African hostel- Buccaneer's Backpackers.  The hostel was great on three levels: the facilities, the setting, and the staff. 
The setting is in a highly vegetated coastal hillside that sits about the river and ocean.    It was neat to also see some historical photos of the hostel from it's opening in 1986 until now.  The views from almost everywhere on the hostel grounds were beautiful.  The hostel is on the other side of a coastal river from "Cintsa East" which includes all of Cintsa except Buccaneer's.  Unfortunately, it does not appear that Buccaneer's will be able to retain its seclusion for long.  Our horse riding guides told us, and there were plenty of signs stating the same, that golf course estates and new gated community housing developments were on their way.  Glad we got here now instead of a few years later.
The pic attached to this post is from the Buccaneer's grounds.
The facilities were perfectly situated on different levels of the hillside.  They consisted of a number of buildings most of which appeared to be two bedroom flats.  They each had their own kitchen, bathroom, porch with ocean view, and two bedrooms.   You shared the flat with the people in the other bedroom.  There are also a pool and poolside bar, a large bar for the evenings below the main house, activity area, sauna, jacuzzi, massage rondavel (hut) and yoga hut.  This is where Ozell and I went for our massage and sauna session.  The hostel served a set dinner each night of the week with both a meat and vegetarian option.  This profitable for them (even though it is quite reasonably priced) because there are really no other options for the guest other than cooking your own.  The only restaurant and store in the town was across the river which is accessible easily enough it just takes 15 minutes walking down the beach, but is not worth it due to the lack of options.  The whole area has a population of 2000 I think.  There were social activities each day at 4:30pm which usually meant playing volleyball in the dirt pit they had.  The activity did come with 10 liters of free wine for the participants so it was fun.  In the evening, people would gather in the main bar and bullshit, play pool, and drink.
Most of the guests were pleasant people.  One notable exception would have been the two 2-3 year olds whom were quickly referred to as "Free Range" or "Feral" children.  The fault is with the parents and not the children.  The children were allowed to play in and around the pool naked all afternoon.  Okay, that is perfectly fine.  I've seen plenty of small children playing nude and actually think that it isn't necessarily a bad thing to delay the conditioning of shame of oneself for a few years, but these children shat (past tense of 'to shit') everywhere!  By the time Ozell and I sat down by the pool, I had already noticed that the boy had shit all over his naked ass.  I thought that was embarrassing for the parents because the feces on his butt were readily observable.  But since I hadn't seen him shit himself and had not seen him in the pool yet, I didn't think too much of it.  However, a few minutes later, the boy's equally young sister (maybe fraternal twin) was walking around the picnic table on the pool deck, braced herself against the bench portion, and shat a big pile of yellow crap on the deck and herself.  She then proceeded to play for a while oblivious that she was walking back and forth through her dung and tracking it everywhere.  Probably a half hour went by with both of the feces ridden children playing around the pool.  Occasionally, they would stand on the pool steps with their feet submersed.  The boy wouldn't have been too bad because he never submersed his ass.  The same could not be said for the girl's feet.  Finally, the mom notices the pile of shit the girl left near the picnic table (on which the girl had already climbed with her poo painted feet), and decided maybe it was time to clean it up along with her children.  She did clean up the pile, but not well enough that the flies were no longer able to recognize the places contained feces.  She also cleaned up her daughter.  She ignored her son however, and he still had a shit covered ass.  We then watched him sit down by the pool with his feet in the water and scooting his ass back and forth like a dog with worms.  Thus, he proceeded to tidy himself up a bit by depositing some of the poop stuck to his ass on the pool deck.  After a bit longer, the mother appeared to finally notice the shit all over her son's backside and decided to clean him up too.  Where was the father in all of this?  Sunning himself poolside, letting his wife take care of all of it.  Then the happy family went back to their cottage.  I was thoroughly amused at the entire episode.  Ozell was thoroughly disgusted.  Hahahahaha
The staff at the hostel was also a good group of people.  Most of the workers were just temporary and some fellow travelers who were spending a few weeks in a place trying to work through their trip.  It is a great way to travel if you are willing to cut down on the number of places you stop but stay for longer periods of time because many hostels are willing to take on temporary help if you can give them at least two weeks of work.  In return, you get free lodging and highly discounted meals and drinks.  The work is not usually too strenuous nor the hours really long.  You still have plenty of time to have fun, and lots of the work can still be fun liking manning the bar or working down at the pool.  Anyways, there was a group of five travelers who were there working for a few weeks before moving on again.  There were also some more long term workers their who all knew the working travelers and other long term staff because they all went to university together in a city a couple hours away.  They were all very nice, funny, and fun to be around.  They even shared some of their weed with me which was very nice.
Cintsa was a fun stop in a very secluded part of the Wild Coast.  I recommend it and Buccaneer's Hostel to anyone heading to SA.
Horse riding next post...

Getting caught up...

Hey Everyone,
We are in Durban, South Africa and have mainly been relaxing and working on our taxes.  It looks like we are both going to be able to file in time electronically.  Thanks to Rena for helping us out and .PDF'ing our tax information to us.  Besides completing our taxes, the other main task for us in Durban was to get Ozell checked out and fixed up.  We haven't accomplished that yet, but it is on the agenda.
I'm going to try to catch up with pics and blog posts.  More Cape Town pics were posted today, but there are still plenty of places to upload still.
Happy Sado-masochistic Torture and Execution of your Fellow Human Being Appreciation Week to you.  ;)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Pictures are coming!!!

Hello Everyone,
Pictures are coming to the blog's photo album!  We are finally in Durban (a real city) and have some internet access although it is still costly.  We are back logged on posting both new posts and photos so give us a little time.
You can start to see some of the pics now from Cape Town.  We will have more as we are able.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Cintsa, South Africa: A very good start to the recovery from Port Elizabeth

Hello Everyone,

Just a short note to let you all know that our stay here at the Buccaneers Backpackers in Cintsa, South Africa has been a very good start to our recovery from Port Elizabeth.  We have really enjoyed this rural hostel, the isolated and pristine beach, the hostel staff and fellow travelers, and some of the activities they offer.  I treated Ozell to a 1 session in a jacuzzi and sauna and then a 1-hour full body massage at the well being center they have here for his belated birthday present.  We also rode horses through part of the bush and along the beach today.  Again, you will have to wait for photos.

This is not to say that our time here has not been impacted by our experience in Port Elizabeth.  The memories are going to sting for a while, and Ozell is still suffering pain and distress from his injuries.  We are speeding up our trip so we can get to Durban more quickly.  This is the only major city in the area, and Ozell wants to get his teeth and his ear checked out.

We are going to one more town before Durban.  We leave for Port St. John's tomorrow afternoon.  It has some recognized backpacking hostels and is a "hippie" and Rastafarian remote fishing village.  It is suppose to be as chill and Cintsa so hopefully we will mellow out some more before reaching Durban.

I am also stressing very much about my taxes.  I will leave that for another post...

Cheers, and we are thinking of all of you.