Wednesday, January 31, 2007

More Cape Town

Since my last post, I've been very busy.

I spent most of Saturday at the botanical gardens. The gardens are very interesting, and have a focus on native South African plants. The whole gardens runs up the side of Table Mountain and affords beautiful views - I tried in vain to get a really good photos of it, but I failed miserably. I got to the top of one hiking path and realized that I was on my way to hike all the way up Table Mountain. Since I was wearing flip flops, and not carrying a whole lot of water, I decided that this was a distinctly poor idea and have vowed to take the cable car up some other time. The neatest part about the gardens was the "weed garden", a section that showcases plants that have become invasive in other countries. Very cool.

I spent Sunday on a tour of Cape Point, which highlighted Boulder Beach and the WIIIIIILD penguin colony (many photos taken there, I assure you), as well as scenic views from Cape Point. We then walked from Cape Point across to the Cape of Good Hope, the most southwestern point in Africa. There were a group of four Dutch high school seniors with us that decided not to do any of the activities, and instead sit around and gossip and be annoying. I'm not sure why they came on the trip in the frist place, unless they are here with someone's mom who wanted them out of their hair for the time being.

Monday found me starting my research. The cheapest way to get from the center of Cape Town to the university is by the free shuttle. Because of my limited experience with proper college campuses, I naively believed that the shuttle made a number of stops in some kind of circuit, and I would just get off at the one that looked right. Silly, silly me. Instead, there is a labyrinthine bus system that can only be navigated by certified cape town students. There are abbreviations that are meaningless to the casual consumer, as well as at least ten different lines that run to different places. With the help of several valiant bus drivers, I was able to figure it all out. My only mishap was a 30 minute bus ride that took me right back to where I started without going anywhere near where I needed to go. Oops.

Today, I took the train down to Simonstown to have a look around. Taking the train down was no problem, but the train back was a bit irritating. I happened to hit it right during rush hour and spent the better part of an hour smashed up against smelly people. It almost made me a little homesick for the 4-5-6 and F Trains during rush hour.

And that's where I am right now! Tomorrow, I'm sightseeing around Cape Town, Friday I am shark diving, Saturday I am taking a wineland tour and Sunday, I return to the USofA.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Cape Town!

the shift key on this keyboard doesn't work, so my capitalization is going to be erratic. i can't stop myself from hitting it, and occasionally it functions. sigh.

it has been a really good couple of days, with a very bad incident in between. i spent my last day in jo'burg at the bruma flea market doing some shopping with one of the other girls staying at the same place. bruma fleamarket isn't all that exciting, but at least i was able to get out of the house. the problem with jo'burg is that you must have a car to get around. without a car, you are basically hamstrung. to get anywhere you must take taxis which can get quite expensive. as a result, i've spent much of my spare time sitting around watching movies. it's a shame to do so in a foreign country, but i don't want to waste money unnecessarily.

the shopping was fun and it was really good to have company. when i was in zanzibar, I bought a little bao board, but i never learned how to play, and a couple of guys showed both of us the simple version of the game. the other girl i was with thought they were going to ask us for money, but they didn't. they were just being nice. the only bad spot was yet another screw up with my bank - this time with my new bank. they were unable to verify a very large check that was deposited. they gave me the fund for said check and i withdrew money. but then, they TOOK THE FUNDS AWAY. i spent the better part of an hour on the phone with them, and they are trying to get it verified as quickly as possible. i'm going to check the card again today to see if any progress was made. i wish when they left me on hold for ages, they would have thought about the fact that i told them i was calling internationally. but, whatever.

yesterday, i arrived in Cape town, and it is like night and day from Johannesburg. i love cape town. it's a very walkable city, and i did the short walking tour in my guidebook yesterday. there are lots of nice restaurants and cafes and bars and shopping, though it's quite a bit more expensive than gauteng (where jo'burg and pretoria are). it took me forever to find a place to stay, and this place that i've ended up reminds me a bit of a college dorm. no bathrooms ensuite and full of undergraduates who want to do nothing but go to bars on vacation. but it's cheap, and available, and that's really what counts. i spent most of yesterday down at the waterfront where i walked around, did some window shopping, went to the aquarium and took a sunset cruise around table bay. the sunset cruise was on an old wooden sailing ship, and they served a nice selection of wine and snacks. I met a really nice couple from Jo'burg that i spoke to quite a bit - i think they felt sorry for me because i was alone. :(


Victoria and Albert Waterfront

Sunset Sail 1

Sunset Sail 2

i also signed up for the tour of cape point for sunday, which will be fun. i'll be seeing the wild penguin colonies at boulder beach (!!!!!!!!!) as well as lots of other good stuff. i'm trying to decide whether i want to take a tour of the winelands as well, as i think I've been convinced to do the great white shark cage diving. looks to be the easiest diving ever - i don't even think you need to be certified. they just stick you in a cage and lower you down - no buoyancy necessary. everyone who has done it said it's pretty amazing, and i feel like it's one of those things that i must do while i'm here since i don't know when i'll be back.

i think today i'm either going to go to the botannical gardens or to a couple of museums. then on monday, it's back to work for a few days. BOO.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Update 1/21/2007

Entry: 1/19/07

Today has been my first semi-bad day in Africa South Africa. (As anyone who knows me or has been reading this blog for sometime knows, it is certainly not the first time I've had a bad day in Africa!)

The day started out well enough. I packed up all of my belongings, checked the internet one last time and said my goodbyes to the people at the Transvaal Museum. DOOM gave me one of his replicas of Mrs. Ples that he's been marketing around which was so SO nice of him. He called a taxi for me and helped me with my stuff out to the front of the museum to wait for it.

And wait we did. And wait. And wait. Taxi finally showed up 15 minutes late. My driver was not particularly good. He played Jesus music at top volume in the car and did not know his way around. Instead, he chose to rely on me - an American - to tell him how to get from point A to point B. When the taxi driver got to Point B, he halfheartedly tried to lift my suitcase out of his trunk, but he couldn't quite manage it. I had to haul it out instead.

Point B was the Incaranga Ranch Resort, a place that sounded awesome from the guidebook. Looked close enough to Jo'burg, was purportedly safe, and situated on some lovely grounds with duck pond and swimming pool and restaurant, and horse-back riding and internet. The truth is a bit south of there, I'm afraid. It is North of the city. They would not help me negotiate taxi fare, and instead said that I'd have to use their taxi service to get to and from the Unviersity at R200 EACH WAY. That's about 50 dollars per day for taxis. The rooms are not safe; not all of the lights work, all of windows are open to the outside, the lock is practically falling out of the door. Because all of the windows open out to the outside, there are craploads of mosquitos in here that are currently eating me alive. The staff is loud and unhelpful -- I used the internet and the man behind the desk stood impatiently looking over my shoulder so he could get back to watching football. The bartender was too busy playing a slot machine to take money for my bottle of water, and the restaurant was deserted. No diners, no waitresses. But really, the safety issue is what bothers me the most. When I am travelling with my computer and camera equipment and microscribe, the ONLY thing I look for in a hotel/hostel/guesthouse/whatever is safety. I want to feel like I can leave my computer in my room and not have it be gone when I get back. Lack of safety was one of the reasons I switched hotels in London last year.

I've already made arrangements to stay elsewhere from tomorrow night on. The woman I talked to on the phone was very nice, and it sounds like a better place to be, so hopefully all will be well.

PS: Getting a SIM card for my phone was the smartest thing I've ever done. It's been so convenient to be able to call ahead for reservations and things.


The new place is quite nice - reminds me a bit of the place I stayed at in Birchington-on-Sea.
The taxi driver once again didn't know how to get from point a to point b and likely would have driven around in circles all day if I hadn't phoned for directions. The owner is a bit loopy - makes veiled racist comments (not particularly uncommon around here) and thinks that she was a native america in a past life (a bit more uncommon). She had a birthday party last night which I attended, in which I met a woman who is into new age metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. Very odd.

The other people who are staying here are also quite nice. One of the girls has malaria and I feel for her acutely. Went for a walk to "chinatown" today. DC's chinablock looks grand in comparison to the half block of dilapidated buildings. I had some chinese food for lunch and it was mediocre at best. Looking forward to getting my work done and going to Cape Town.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


I wrote a post yesterday, that I'll post when I can be bothered to put it on a flash drive for uploading on a computer other than my own. Suffice it to say, since I last posted, I have:

- moved from Pretoria to Jo'burg

- moved from one backpackers to a different backpackers


- gone to a birthday party

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Pretoria Zoo

Today I went to the zoo! The Pretoria Zoo is not exactly in the best of condition, though they have a pretty amazing set of animals, concentrated most on African animals. They had a bunch of stuff I've seen before, a bunch of stuff I HADN'T seen before, plus a cable car offering views over the zoo. I rode the cable car to the top of tiger hill and back down, and not since my time in China has a ride scared me so much. Note to self: do not go on rides in Africa. Ever.

Today I saw.....

Desert Cat



Fast kitties!

Tiger 1

BIG kitties!




Pretty birdies!

Lazy piggies!

... and, of course.... MONKEYS! More monkeys (okay, apes and lemurs too) than I've seen at ANY zoo. Including the Bronx Zoo, and the National Zoo.

(for those that care .... that would be none of you, okay. Well, for my own reference, they had four species of lemur, three species of gibbons, gorillas, baboons, mandrills, assorted guenons and mangabeys, chimps, assorted marmosted and tamarins, lion tailed macaques, and probably more that I am forgetting)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Two days ago, the Director (who shall forthwith be known as DOOM) asked me if I had "seen the sights" in Pretoria.

I was momentarily confused. "," I replied.

"Well, I must take you before you go! I'm going out there on Wednesday - make sure to bring walking shoes and a hat. Do you have a hat?"

I was still confused. ""

He got up and fetched one of his own Indiana Jones style field hats and handed it to me. He told me that he thought I could go to Sterkfontein first while he had an appointment, and then he'd take me to Swartkrans and Kromdraai. It was at that point when I realized he meant SITES not SIGHTS, and I was off to see the main attractions in South Africa's "cradle of humanity", a series of paleontological sites.

First up was a museum complex called Marupeng which is supposed to be about the journey from the formation of the earth through all of human evolution. Incongruously, the building is shaped like a tradition European burial mound, a decision that DOOM said he strenuously objected to. The museum opens with an odd little segment about the diversity of people in the world, before seguing into a strange boat ride through the four elements. Unfortunately, the boats are meant to work on inertia and with only me in the boat... I got stuck. There are no cameras and no walkways (this is Africa, after all), so I stood up and sort of rocked back and forth through the narrow opening until my seaworthy little craft eked through. The museum had reasonable information, but I thought it was a bit difficult to navigate as there was no set path through the exhibit.

odd entrance to Marupeng Museum

Then it was off to Sterkfontein, where I took the guided tour of the caves and excavations. It was quite interesting, though the last five minutes were bit harrowing - lots of steep, narrow passages. I knew there was a reason I didn't want to go cave exploring. A small child was on the tour with us and went running through these passages, shouting, "These aren't so small!" I wanted to shout back, "If you were four feet taller, YOU'D BE SINGING A DIFFERENT TUNE."

Cave Formations

an entrance to the cave

After this was a 1 km hike to Swartkrans. Part of the 1 km hike required the fording of a small stream. A small muddy stream. So what was the first thing I did? Set my foot in about an inch of mud. In trying to pull it out, it slipped out from under me. Luckily the PUDDLE OF MUD broke my fall. My entire left side, from my ankle to just above my knee was coated in a nice layer of mud. But there was nothing to do but wait for it to dry and carefully flake it off.

The evil roaring river of death!!!!! Okay, so it was like a three inch puddle. You got a problem with that?

The last site I saw was Kromdraai, where they recently had a break in. A bunch of equipment was stolen, and then the theives felt the need to absolutely trash the place. Tables turned over, boxes full of breccia over turned, the tops of stools ripped off and thrown around. DOOM said it lookes like King Tut's tomb. It's unfortunate that thieves feel the need to be vandals as well. It's easier to replace the stuff without having to worry about cleaning out all of your carefully catalogued belongings and sending them to the rubbish pile.

On the way back, I saw a huge eyesore of a building up atop a gigantic hill. I asked DOOM what that was, and he said it was the Voortrekker monument.

The story that he told me about it was this:

The original colonists were the Voortrekkers, and they were a very devout lot. They moved into the region to escape religious oppression back home. When they moved to the Tshwane area, they encountered the Zulu people. They waged war against one another, with the Zulu having superior numbers and superior knowledge of the land, but with the Voortrekkers having superiors weapons. Finally, they decided to sign a peace accord. They wrote it in Dutch and had translators tell the terms to the Zulu. All of the heads of the Voortrekkers went to the Zulu camp to present this treaty. The Zulu chief pointed at the group and said that they were sorcerors, and they were immediately killed by the Zulu tribe. This prompted the "Bloody Battle". Before the battle, the Voortrekkers prayed to their God and said that if they won, they would build a monument and pray to their God every day at that monument. They did win the war, so they built a small monument which was then expanded upon in 1936. It became a symbol for white domination and black oppression. Thus, in 1994, "Freedom Park" was built on the top of the nieghboring mountain, as a symbol for the end of the aparteid. So freedom and oppression now face each other over a small valley.

And now I am resting.


My data collection here is finished. Yes, that's right, finished. I finished WAAAAY early. Thus, I have turned my attention to seeing what there is to see in Pretoria.

Turns out, there's not a whole hell of a lot to see.

Today, I slept in, and did some laundry and grocery shopping. Those domestic tasks out of the way, I decided to see what was upstairs in the Transvaal Museum. I've been sitting downstairs for five days now, checking my email and collecting data. I figured it was time to see the upstairs.

The museum actually has a very nice bird exhibit - nicer than the one in New York Cit-ay. They have a fossil of a nine-foot tall subfossil Malagasy bird. It would have been heavier than a gorilla. Its pelvis reached about my neck. Fossils are cool!

In addition, there was an extraordinary exhibit on the evolution of humans, with displays formulated in the sixties and seventies. Some of them were too precious not to photograph - and I present those to you here:

The death of SK 54. It's a fossil skull cap with two sabre-tooth cat bit marks in it. Here, they have taken a leopard and stuck big fangs on it for this beautiful recreation.

A. africanus greets the dawn by stretching an yawning in his fully bipedal posture.

And finally, my favorite! The "proto-humans" (A. africanus, who are CLEARLY directly in the line to modern humans ::snort::) sit wearing clothes, basking in the warmth of a roaring fire, while the EVIL P. robustus (extinct side-branch of the human lineage) come racing over the hillside in all of their savagery to SMITE the proto-humans.

After that, I finalized my plans for today and went to Church Square, which is sort of Pretoria City Center. It has a lot of the old, colonial building still intact. Kind of cool.

Church Square 2

Church Square 3

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

24 Hours In Hell

24 Hours In Hell

7:00am: Wake up. Shower. Dress.

7:45am: Try to hail a cab.

7:50am: Still trying.

8:00am: Still trying.

8:07am: Get in a gypsy cab. Pay $35.00 to go to LaGuardia from the Upper East Side. Plus $5.00 in tolls.

8:50am: Check in to for my flight to Washington, DC. The clerk checks my passport, and gives me boarding passes for both legs of my flight. I try and change my seat for the long leg but am told I must wait until I get to Washington DC as it's technically a flight on a different airline.

9:50am: Board airplane and sit on runway.

10:00am: Still sitting.

10:10am.: Still sitting.

10:35am: Take off! Yesss! I am on my way to Africa, I think. God laughs at me and thinks back, Oh, but I have other plans for her.

11:37am: Arrive in Dulles airport and begin to kill time before my connecting flight to South Africa.

3:00pm: Desk attendant finally arrives at my gate. I queue up to try and change my seat.

3:15pm: Get on express train to Hell.

I hand my boarding pass to the gate attendant. "Is this a window or an aisle?" I ask.

"Aisle," he replies surlyly.

"I was wondering if there is exit row seating," I query.

"Full flight," he replies surlyly. Then he looks at my boarding pass again. "Give me your passport."

Puzzled, I hand it to him. He flips through it, intently looking at every page. Then he says, "You can't get on this flight." He draws an evil black "x" through my boarding pass.

I grasp futily at my desecrated boarding pass. "WHY?"

"You have to have an empty page in your passport for the stamp."

I pick up my much maligned passport and point to some open quadrant. "Look, there is space for a stamp! And there! I have space!"

"No, you need an full page free in your passport to enter the country." He scrawls a number down on a piece of paper. "You'll have to go the passport office to get additionally pages in your passport."

"Where is it?"

"Downtown Washington, DC. We'll rebook you on the flight tomorrow. Next!"

"Wait, can I get my luggage?"

"Maybe, but it will take several hours. Best we just hold it. Next!"

3:25pm: Begin to cry.

3:27: Get a hold of myself and realize that of all cities this could possibly happen in, Washington DC is the best as I know people who live in the city and do not have to wait several days to get passport crap taken care of. Curse the attendant who checked me in at LaGuardia for not telling me this when I could have taken care of it in the morning and possibly gotten a later flight to washington and therefore still made my 5:20pm flight to South Africa. Curse the universe for selecting a dissertation that requires me to travel to Africa on a regular basis.

3:30: Call C. She works near the airport. We deicide that she will drive over to drop off the keys to her apartment. I can then take a taxi and hang out at her apartment for a little while while she finishes up at work.

3:35: Call passport agency. Make a morning appointment.

3:45: C. arrives. I walk outside and realize that while my clothing is appropriate for South Africa January, it is not appropriate for Washington DC January. Resist the urge to cry and/or scream. Get keys.

3:50: Get in taxi.

4:25: Taxi takes a wrong turn and must use GPS system to try and figure out where he is in relation to where I need to go.

4:35: Arrive at apartment. Start writing a journal entry. Realize that it's too soon to really see the humor in the situation, and decide to call boyfriend to complain instead.

7:00pm: Get food at Cafe Asia with friends from college. Eat Pad Thai. Tummy is happy. Thanks NSF!

9:00pm: Go to Tar-jay. Purchase: toothbrush, underwear, socks, deodorant, and a long sleeve shirt. Feel no compunction about charging this to my grant.

9:45pm: Get coffee with friends at Cosi. Realize once more it is not the same as Xandos. Mourn briefly.

11:00pm: Sleep

6:45am: Wake up. Shower. Dress.

7:30am: Get ride to metro. Purchase ticket. Wait.

7:50am: Still waiting.

8:10am: Arrive at passport office. Go through security. Wait in line at the appointment counter with the other 50 people that have 8:00am appointments.

8:30am: Speak to teller. Fill out paperwork. The teller asks for my itenerary. I give it to her. She looks at the dates. "This says you were supposed to leave yesterday," she says. The salt stings my wound. Am given a number and told to wait until my number is called.

8:40am: Waiting.

8:50am: Waiting. Give brief thanks that at least I have plenty of reading material with me.

9:00am: Speak to teller number #2. Am told I will have to pay $60.00 to the US government for the priveledge of having 24 extra pages glued into my passport. Thanks NSF! Am told that it will take approximately 3 hours for said gluing to occur, and I should show up at 12:15pm for pick up.

9:15: Go to corner bakery. Have large chocolate muffin and giant cup of coffee. Write this entry. Let the waiting begin.