Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Wild Coast... and the Indian Ocean Experience

Hello to all of our lovely readers,
We hope this post find you all very well and enjoying the lovely weather of summer.

This is the post where we tell you about our vacation and the lovely Wild Coast of South Africa. The Wild Coast is called the Wild Coast (I think) because it is lots of big rocks and mountains on the shoreline - its very dramatic - dotted with a few lovely sandy beaches. I also read that there were a ton of shipwrecks along this coast. You'll likely be able to get the feel for it with all of the photos I'll post under the Vacations tab. The Wild Coast is the stretch of shoreline in the Eastern Cape between Port Edward and East London, during aparthide it used to be a "homeland" called the Transeki and many people still call it that, and I won't say a lot about that history here, but I get the feeling it is pretty interesting. It is originally home to a Xhosa tribe called the Pondo people, at least where we were in Port St. John.

One thing that has been really interesting when we've been traveling into South Africa is the diversity. There are so many different languages and tribes, I definitely never know what to speak! I find myself wanting to use Sesotho, but then thinking twice because it would often be the same as using French or something. But in the end everyone seems to communicate and it is really fun to hear Xhosa with all of its clicks and Seszulu and Afrikaans and... most people here speak at least 3 languages reasonably well - even here in Lesotho. Anyway, it is kinda fun.

I want to add something that we have officially learned from traveling to not commit to anything right away - look around at markets -ask prices, look around and ask prices for taxis/buses, same goes for accomodations etc... - for what that is worth, we have a hard time with this but when we successfully stick to it, we haven't regretted it.

So, we stayed in Port St. John's at this lovely little backpackers called Amapondo, we mentioned a few of the not so lovely things in the last post, and the accomodation is definitely not for everyone - but we really enjoyed ourselves. We had the lovely porch, lovely windows, lovely bathtub, lovely beach, lovely activities and even a nice communal area - so we were a bit confused at how to spend our time. First day, we just hung out around our beautiful cabin, went into town and checked out PSJ and tried to get our bearings. The second day, we went on a nice little beach walk on the close-by main beach here (2nd beach) with an interesting kid we met at Amapondo, he has come to do a shorter stint of PC-like service focusing on socially responsible businesses. We ate at this beautiful little restaurant on the beach called the Delicious Monster, we had fresh seafood and excellent milkshakes! (mine had coffee). Saw monkeys and Pointsettia trees while eating. Then we continued on a little hike to 3rd beach (they are real creative with the names...) which is a pretty remote beach with really interesting rocks (geology junkies would have a field day at this place!) and plenty of shells and it is on the Sitika nature reserve. We were also accompanied by the sweet resident dogs of Amapondo. It was really fun to get a great view of the beaches here, there are little pockets of gorgeous sandy beach, but there are also huge jagged rocks, some volcanic, some that look like big versions of the mudstones found in Michigan, and some that are layered - regardless, some of them are huge and rugged (see the photos for the full effect). Being from MT neither of us have really gotten a chance to learn a lot about the ocean, from the waves to the really cool micro-ecosystems of the tidal pools, to the plastic washing up on the beach and footprints in the sand, it is amazing how different they are from place to place on the same beach, not to meniton in different parts of the world. It has been fun to explore a bit here.

We also had the ultimate experience of going out in the ocean with a company called Off-shore Africa. It is a couple that have been doing this for over 25 years, with a really interesting small-ish boat, kind of like a normal boat crossed with a white-water raft. The other folks that we were with wanted to experience the full on Sardine Run (with snorkel and even scuba) which happens this time of year (real Discovery channel stuff!) and is the specialty of our guides - The run happens because of the different temperatures and currents etc... but then millions of Sardines come by along with everything that eats them, birds, sharks, whales, dolphins... I wanted a chance to see whatever I could but I've also wanted to see a whale in the wild for a long time.

*Mom's and grandmas stop reading here and resume at the next asterix! So, our journey began with a "Typical African Surf Launch" which was crazy! And one of Shane's favorite parts. The guy said that since the waves come in fairly strong and most of the ports down here are not well protected like in some parts of the world, its always a little bit of a thrill getting out into the ocean and fighting past the moderately intense waves, with our feet securely in foot straps and holding on tight so we didn't bounce out - we made it after our third try. It was better than a roller-coaster is all I have to say!
*Once we got out there, and caught our breath, we got a chance to see this amazing coastline from the water and really see why it is called the Wild Coast. Almost immediatly, we found ourselves in the middle of a pod of over 100 common dolphins, which cannot be described any way besides magical! They were leaping and playing in the waves, including juveniles - whose birth is timed to correspond to them being the right age in time for the Sardine Run. Shane got a chance to get in the water for a snorkel, while I got to discover the frustration of trying to photograph unpredictable marine life from a small-ish rocking boat. I managed (by luck alone) to get a few good shots, (see photo above) which I didn't realize until after but I ended up giving up and just enjoying after awhile. After a bit of following the dolphins, they moved on and in the not too far distance, we saw a fully breaching whale! It was a humpback, which are not here for the sardines but they are migrating by here on their way to Mozambique from Antarctic Ocean for calving season. We ended up seeing quite a few, even three swimming next to each other and arching out of the water a little bit, at the same time! One was just hanging out on the surface for awhile, the whale equivalent of lounging on the couch, we think. We also saw the blowing, and even the whale's footprint (when they dive down, the water looks a bit different in that place, like when you throw a stone). It was a great day for whales - even if they were really difficult to photograph! Then, the wind started to pick up a bit, and the water became kind of rough - and after getting jostled around and a bit wet, we headed back in. It was an amazing experience, I had previous believed that the giant granite mountains of Yosemite and even Sethlabathebe could make a person feel insignificant - but it was nothing compared to the majesty of this ocean! We were really happy to be together for it. We wish you all could have been with us, but hopefully the description and photos let you know we are thinking about you all and are a little taste...

After that, we were kind of out of money and were content to just hang out around our beautiful cabin and walk/play frisbee/do yoga etc... on the beach. We also were able to buy 2 fresh lobsters for the equivalent of about $4 US and so we got to cook them up and even eat them with real butter, a treat we don't get so often... Then, Saturday it was time to leave - one key to getting around by public transport is getting up early, so we were waiting in a taxi by 7am... we were able to make it back without too much problem. Check out the photos for a shot of our transport up to the border to Lesotho! We made it back just in time to catch a beautiful sunset from the top of the hill above our house.

We came back relaxed and refreshed and we both got head colds coming back - and even the cat has been sneezing! It hasn't been terribly cold and we haven't seen snow yet in Lesotho this, but last week we heard there was enough on the road in a neighboring district to shut down public transport, so there were some volunteers stuck in Maseru. Now, this week we're just getting back into the groove, I'm looking forward to going for a training session for the new volunteers at the end of the week and then we'll be having two of the trainees as our guests so they get to see first hand what its like before they fully commit to two years and swear in as real volunteers... So, I'll try to get another post up sometime next week. I know I said this last week, but I again want to say thanks so much for your all of your love and support of us - and thanks grandma, grandpa and auntie K for the singing card - I opened it several times on our trip:-)

As always thinking of you guys and wishing the best.
Carol and Shane

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