Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Port St. John's Photos are up!

Sorry I wasn't able to get the photos up with the post yesterday, the power went out! But, they are officially up on the "More Vacation" page today. So, check 'em out - we hope you enjoy them, it was such a beautiful place and we really enjoyed taking them!

Will check in next week.
Sending our love,
Carol and Shane

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

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Birthday Vacation!

Hello Everyone,
So, we’re doing this post from vacation… We arrived after dark Monday after waking up in the morning to it literally freezing temperature in our house, then, spending all day on public transport – ugh! It was a lot colder than expected on the Wild Coast, we heard rats scuttling around in the “kitchen” during the night the hot water in the tub goes in REALLY SLOWLY and… we love it! We are staying in a cute little cabin on the top of hill looking over a small estuary feeding into the ocean. We changed eco-systems 3 times, with the Drakensburgs looking just like Glacier National Park and then most of the way between there and the Wild Coast looked like the area around Conrad, MT – Now we are here and the ecosystem is tropical, all Birds of Paradise and Banana trees… Also, we have all of the luxuries, warmer weather (not hard when we could see our breath in our bathroom in Lesotho!), wi-fi, good food, beach, views, nice bathtub with hot water… We’re really noticing some of the effects of having been living in PC (read on for more of this too), here on vacation – we borrowed a cat for our cabin, and the electric tea kettle has been helping the tap out for the bath, and we didn’t really think twice about it. More about it to come with great photos!
            I wanted to do this post to say thank you so much! We received 2 packages before leaving and have delighted in tea and chocolate and even a card that sings Happy Birthday! Thanks so much. I know that we’ve said this before and I know we’ll say it again, but we really can’t express how much all of your love and support has meant to us. If it is in the form of encouraging or chatty emails, letters, phone calls, photos, packages, postcards – all of it is deeply appreciated! We have been blown away by you guys, we were hoping we wouldn’t get anyone calling us crazy and trying to get us to come home, but really everyone we know has just went above and beyond, we knew we were lucky for our families and friends – but dang guys! You’re amazing!
            So… we left for our African adventure in Peace Corps, just over 1 year ago – can you guys believe it? We’re not sure we can! We toured Philly, saw a glimpse of NYC for the first time, then it was time to get on that big scary plane for a LONG time and cross the Atlantic, definitely not knowing what was in store for us. We safely landed on the continent of Africa after watching the sun set and rise again from the airplane. We were welcomed by the villagers and also really started to get to know some of the other PCVs.            We had only been in Lesotho for about a week when my (gasp!) 27th birthday rolled around. At that time we were in PC’s Community Based Training, having training sessions from dawn until dusk (literally!), we weren’t given money, we couldn’t leave the village anyway so it didn’t matter – and so, I didn’t really have high hopes for celebrating last year. Shane, being sweet, tried to do a surprise for me by telling the other volunteers, so they could do a surprise… acknowledgement – but he told them the wrong day! So, I came to class June 6th to a nice handmade card, singing and even a balloon… it was sweet, but a little bit embarrassing!  Unfortunately, we didn’t really get a do-over when my real birthday rolled around. However, our host family was amazing! After we got done with class, laundry (4 hrs hand washing) and gardening, I found Shane had told our family the right date and our host father had gotten wine and cake to share and even the sweetest card I could ask for! PC ended up brining delicious treats to share too, but there were a few bumps with that, as mine was the first birthday of our group in Lesotho. Regardless, it was interesting – but I’m happy that this year we can go to the beach for a little R&R and temperatures in the high 70’s! Next year at this time we will be on the home stretch of our PC service. Unfortunately, we will be in the phase of service where during the last 3 months we aren’t allowed to leave our site… so, we’re learning to celebrate when we can and be flexible with times and how we celebrate.
            I don’t know what to say though about a year in Lesotho. Our year of official volunteer-ness will come up in August along with our (3rd!) wedding anniversary. We’ve learned a lot so far. We’ve had a lot of cool, cold and not so cool experiences, played a lot of Scrabble and generally adapted to this as our normal life for now. We agree that when we return “home” to the now, far-away seeming land of America, we will really see how this experience has changed us– especially with another year under our belts. We were joking with some volunteers who are about to finish up their service, about doing a blog talking about the adventure of returning to America, to be mostly appreciated by currently serving volunteers… “sent a kid to the store to buy milk for me, they laughed, took my money and I’m still waiting for them to return…” “confused by people staying up later than 9pm…” “grocery store clerk gives me funny looks when I buy 30 eggs at a time and 2lbs of peanut butter every week…”
            In any case, we are embarking on a new point in our service. We will soon be the “senior” volunteers. Right before we swore in last August, PC showed us a graph that represented the typical emotional highs and lows of PC service for volunteers… of course at that time we were all excited and ready to get out there and serve, so we thought about it, but mainly in terms of “that won’t happen to me.” Naturally, all of that is individual, but a lot of it was true. One of Shane’s year-in comments was about how at first was the learning period and it took some time to really get into his role and used to how things happen here, but now, as I think is typical around the year mark – he’s starting to really get excited, into the groove, see the possibilities, set goals for year two and get used to how things work. As for me, I think most of this time I’ve been experiencing, like many other times in my life, as what can best be described in the words of Grandpa Stanley in his lovely Pennsylvania Dutch accent as “muddling and slopping” ungracefully, through it all, doing the best I can.
            We’ve been keeping a few stats during our year in Lesotho, and we’ve considered doing a little betting pool or something of what they’ll be after 2 years. So far, we’ve played 112 games of Scrabble (counting one on the plane over here), eaten 22 kgs of Peanut Butter (almost 50 lbs!), and gotten 21 care packages (see, I wasn’t kidding, you guys are amazing!). We were counting the wine, but stopped doing that because of counting boxes/bottles etc… didn’t work out. Shane has read 13 books and I’ve read 20 (we should be picking up our reading with the winter, but we’ve been busier and tired and since we got the laptop… we’ve been indulging in the guilty pleasure of movies). We probably should be counting eggs we’ve eaten too as that will likely be an impressive number- but we’re not sure we want to know!

I’ll wrap it up there, but there’s a little tribute to our year marker of arrival in country – and more talk about my birthday, vacation and winter in Lesotho! We’ll take some nice Indian Ocean pictures and try to get them up for next time.
In the meantime, we are thinking about you guys, and hope you are all doing splendidly!
Hugs from Lesotho,
Carol and Shane       

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Newsy Tidbits...

Hello Everyone,
I thought I'd make this post to just fill you in on our newsy tidbits, before we go on VACATION to the Wild Coast for my birthday next week! We hope everyone back home is doing really well, we are thinking of you. We are still waiting in suspense for some packages that are supposedly still on the way - the lady at the Post Office is getting really sick of seeing our smiling faces every morning! The weather has been getting cold, low 50's in our house in the morning and evenings is becoming the norm. We got our stove going last night and it warmed the house about 5 degrees, and partially cooked a pot of chickpeas... (as you can see we are a little bit lacking in newsy tidbits!) Today has been cold and many people are talking about the first snow of the winter coming soon to the highlands... we'll see - and we're glad we are about to got to the beach. Our cat has been getting to the point where is is roaming around and not coming home for several hours, Shane made the comment that when it snows, we'll be able to see where he goes (remember, we don't have TV).

So, the elections have passed, the parliment just met for the first time and at this time everything is peaceful. The Prime Minister is resigning peacefully because the other parties formed a coalition government (this is what I hear, the radio news is, of course, in Sesotho). PC has just lessened our Emergency code by one step... so we take that as a good sign. We are being told to stay watchful, though here in the districts and villages isn't where things usually happen. So, there is that story for now.

Shane has been harvesting thatch for the roof of the Snake Park. His hands are getting all cut up from the grass. Also, he has been coming home with these delicious roasted potatoes that they have been taking directly from the ground and putting into the coals of a fire to cook. They come out with black charred skin that you peel off before you eat them (I'm kinda getting the idea that this is man food). He has brought some home for me to try though, and they have been delicous in potato salad. He's also been thinking about martial arts constantly - so he's happy!

I've been busy. I've been working with Sister Magdelena on the Water Charity project, building a rainwater collection tank from stones and concrete. She came up with the idea of asking the nearby primary school kids to help collect the stones - if each of the 400 took one, we'd have enough real soon. So, we did that, and in return we gave each student a half an orange and a lecture on why they should eat oranges instead of sweets, wash their hands before eating and volunteer to help others... very Peace Corps, can't let any opportunity get away. I've been teaching some of the Sisters basic computer skills too, that has been fun. We've lately been learning about folders and the right-click menu. I've also still been working with the business woman at the bakery, we are working on keeping her records in Excel, which has also meant teaching computers as we go - but she's a quick learner and hard worker, so she is really coming along and even typing 13wpm on the typing software! We had a small birthday party on Sunday for one of the orphans - I made a 2 layer cake, of which I was very proud and that they all loved and devoured rapidly. I've also been spending entirely too much time engrossed in editing the volunteer cookbook - but hopefully this will pay off in its usefulness to the new volunteers.

I think that is the main 'news'. We are really looking forward to this vacation. The Sardine Run is supposed to start really soon, so we are hoping to see some early... birds? while we are there. Along with some whales and dolphins, so please wish us luck. Other than that, sitting on the beach, enjoying the bathtub with real hot water that goes right into it. We'll have our own kitchen and a real grocery store nearby and I've even heard there is a small, fresh seafood market. Regardless, we've been kinda busy lately so it'll be great to relax a little bit before we come back to work again. Where I'll be doing a training session for the new volunteers and Shane will finally be recieving the money for his grant.

We are thinking of you all and hope you are well and enjoying real summer - except in Bozeman, I'm sure it is due to snow at least once more...

Hugs from Lesotho,
Carol and Shane