South Africa (December 3, 2009)

We left the Middle East somewhat reluctantly but were very excited to start exploring a whole new region.  We arrived in Johannesburg and spent a day at the African Leadership Academy, an amazing school founded by our friend Chris Bradford.  We not only got to brush up on our high school physics and leadership skills, we also met students from all over the continent with remarkable stories and aspirations. 

We then were treated to the “Bradford special tour” which included both a visit to the township of Soweto and the Voortrekker monument in Pretoria (a monument to the “Great Trek” of the Afrikaners.)   One an intentional monument to the Afrikaners escape from persecution by the British, the other an unintentional remnant of the Afrikaner subsequent persecution and discrimination of black South Africans.  While the two are obviously incomparable in severity and gravity, the contrast provided very interesting insight into some of the ironies of the history of South Africa (that continues today with the recent persecution of immigrants from other African nations.)

Next, we traveled up north to Kruger National Park where we enjoyed our first safari experience.  The experience was truly magical.  We stayed in a remote lodge where baby baboons and impalas greeted us on the walkways in the morning.  During each game drive we were treated to a taste of the “Big Five”—including watching a herd of elephants give themselves mud baths, watching a female lioness walk right behind the jeep, and tracking a leopard in the bush for several minutes.  Other highlights included rounding out the Big Five (with the Water Buffalo and Rhino), baby giraffes, a pack of wild dogs by the roadside, and a bush walk during which we learned about the different floral and fauna (including several trees that have apparent have medicinal properties for certain personal problems; Jed took careful notes, while Meg corrected the proportions- doctors…)  And even though we were warned that the classic American “mistake” is to get really excited by a Zebra (which are considered quite common in Africa), we couldn’t help taking several pictures--their faces are beautiful up close.

Next it was on to Cape Town where we had the pleasure of enjoying the city from a breathtaking seaside apartment in Clifton.  We quickly fell in love with the city and all that it has to offer.  We managed to hit the highlights—climbing Table Mountain (turns out it is a pretty hard climb), boating out to Robben Island, wandering in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, driving to the Cape of Good Hope, and the exploring the City Bowl.  The excitement of the upcoming World Cup filled the air (as did dust from all of the construction) and the city felt very much alive and vibrant.  We also met up with Sue Valentine (a friend of Jed’s father) who told us about runs the Children's Radio Foundation, which supports amazing radio programs by and for children (check it out at www.childrensradiofoundation.org).  She also took us on a tour of the Cape Town Children’s Hospital (the only separate Children’s hospital in Sub-Saharan Africa,) which was a definite highlight for Meg.  Jed’s highlight may have been the free dinner we got because he correctly answered a question about Egypt mythology; turns out the report he did in the 8th grade on the sun goddess Nut (and the recent refresher in Egypt) paid off!

(Dusk in Cape Town with Table Mountain in the background) 

The only disappointing part of Cape Town was discovering (after the fact) that the Cape of Good Hope is in fact NOT the southern most point in Africa.  However since we (like all the other tourists there) took the picture, we feel we have to insert it here.  Maybe someday we’ll make it to Cape Agulhas.

Finally we headed out to wine country to learn about (and taste of course) the various South African wines. One of the highlights was trying various types of the Pinotage grape variety. Stellenbosch, and the other wineland towns, certainly rival those of California for beauty, culinary delights, and excellent vineyards!

Overall, South Africa is both an emotionally stimulating and draining country.  We were wowed by the great natural, cultural, and human resources of the country, but also troubled by the contemporary effects of (recent) history. We continually had to remind ourselves that much of the momentous moments in the country’s history happened during our lifetimes. Like parts of the middle east (Israel, for example), our visit to South Africa really brought history to life and gave today’s headlines more perspective . 

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