Friday, April 30, 2010

The Land of the Hobbits and Fairies

This past weekend, my roommates and I embarked on our very last adventure in South Africa. We traveled four hours north to Hogsback. This little town actually helped JRR Tolkein think up The Lord of the Rings. He visited Hogsback as a child and was inspired by the mountains, forests, and, I suppose, the fairies.

Everyone warned us that Hogsback was a little bit strange. They told us the people there were a little on the odd side. A town fit for me, hey? The first person I met was named Happy. He tried to sell me two hog figurines and some magic mushrooms. I bought the hogs.

We spent the weekend hiking, taking pictures with fairies, walking and meditating in a labyrinth, visiting and eco-shrine, etc. It's really all too hard to describe without pictures! Perhaps, I can post some when I return to the States. I will be back in about a week and a half!

I will be very sad to leave my school and my students, but I feel that I've had many good adventures in South Africa. I'm ready for my next adventure!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cape Town Holiday

Hello, all! We've just returned from our two week holiday to Cape Town. We took the Garden Route down and stopped along the way for a bit of adventure. We spent five nights in Cape Town and then ventured slowly back to our home in Port Elizabeth. It is far too much for me to write about each of the wonderful things that we did so I will simply give you the highlights.

On the way to Cape Town, we stopped in Knysna where Trudy (my roommate) and I stayed in the largest Rastafarian community in the country. Judah Square is located in the heart of Knysna's largest township. Everyone who lives there has an absolute heart of gold, and they welcomed us into their homes and families. We spent hours playing with the children in the small schoolhouse that one of the sisters started. It has 45 children from the township and only two teachers. One of the brothers was so kind to show us his prized garden with plants far taller than me. (I'll show you pictures if you like, but I must not post them.) What an experience!

We also stopped along the way to have wonderful wildlife interactions: petting cheetahs, getting cozy with caracals, riding elephants, attempting to balance on know, normal African things.

However, my absolute favorite activity was Great White Shark cage diving. This was perhaps the coolest thing I've ever done in my life. We were so lucky because the sharks quickly responded to the bait and chum and began swarming our boat within 30 minutes. We saw eight great whites in total and the largest was a mere eleven feet in length. While I was in the cage, I got to watch the playful sharks swim just inches in front of my face. It got even more exciting when the came directly at my face and I had to remind myself to pull my fingers in while they bit at the bars of my cage! One bit the cage a bit too hard and lost a tooth (no, I didn't get the tooth or I would have lost an arm!). I highly recommend this activity to anyone who ever gets the opportunity. Shark week will never be the same!

Cape Town was great! It's a beautiful city with gorgeous mountains and a stunning coastline. We climbed to the top of Lion's Head and watched the sun set over the ocean and the city. Unfortunately, our trips to Table Mountain and Robben Island were canceled due to the fierce winds. (Guess I'll have to come back!)

On the way home, we stopped at Cango Caves in Outdshoorn. Never in my life have I been through caves like these! The flyer warned the excursion was for lean people only--but there were tunnels you had to turn sideways to squeeze through (Tunnel of Love)! (A couple of years ago, a curvy lady got stuck for 11 hours and they had to rub oils on her to get her out!) One tunnel required us to slide down face first (the Post Box, also know as the Rebirthing Chamber). Another, called Devil's Chimney, had us shimmying our way UP 12 feet! I loved these caves, but I will say there were hardly enough bats for my taste.

All in all, we had a great holiday. Now I'm back in school for the last four weeks of my South African adventure. I will be spending the rest of my time in a Grade 2 class. I'm excited to be with even younger kids and learn a bit more!

Miss everyone madly!!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Knysna Weekend

My dear friends and family,

I must appologize for my lack of must all be so worried, I'm sure. I have been monstrous busy completing my 20 days of teaching. I have yet to blog about my weekend in Knysna (Feb. 19 to Feb. 21). However, let your minds be at ease, for you are about to read about it now!

One of the teachers at my school, Herbert Hurd Primary, invited me and another student place here, Ali, to her home in Knysna. After school on Friday, we joined the teacher, her husband, and her daughter who was visiting from London and headed on our way to the beautiful beach town about three hours from Port Elizabeth. When we arrived, we went directly to a market that is held every Friday night. There was live music and lots of wonderful foods. Ali and I walked around exploring the homemade pizzas, Mexican corn fritters, hot chips, mini donuts covered with caramel & candies, cakes, pastas, etc. After finally deciding on dinner, we settled down on our blanket eating our spinach and mushroom pizza and listening to Sweet Home Alabama playing in the background. Ahh...if it wasn't for the salty sea breeze coming from the Indian Ocean, I would have thought I was home.

The next morning, we got up entirely too early to be sure we caught the high tide. This family actually thought they were going to get me to wakeboard. I watched as teacher's daughter flawlessly glided across the water like she had special lessons from Jesus himself. As I strapped my feet into the board, I reminded myself that she was a triathlete and there was no way I'd be nearly as good. I did give it my all until I felt that my arms would absolutely fall off and I could not longer grip a pencil, much less a rope being dragged behind a speeding boat. I didn't quite get up all the way, but they told me we could try again the next morning.

After a pleasant boat ride, we went to explore another market. This market was full of local foods, drinks, crafts, arts, and my personal favorite, junk. We perused for hours before leaving empty handed. I am so proud of myself for withholding and not buying everything in sight. However, this will not last long--I'm sure I'll find some things to bring back to my friends and family.

Since it was about 12 noon, we figured it was a perfect time to go nap on the beach for a couple hours. The beach was beautiful, and Ali and I were thrilled it wasn't quite as windy as the beaches in PE.

On Sunday morning, we again raced to get to the waters before the sun rose. I tried again at wakeboarding. While I am not going to be in any competitions anytime soon, I did thoroughly enjoy myself. And this must be said: the wakeboard I was using was only four inches shorter than me--that is entirely too big for me being such a shortie. If anyone has access to a smaller board, I'm sure I would glide over the waters like an angel. Thank you.

The rest of the day, we relaxed and rested. It was such a wonderful and fun weekend. I loved spending time with the family and being welcomed into their home. They were so kind and stuffed us full of fresh fruits and vegetables. Perfect! Ta ta for now!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

It's Nice to be Liked

Despite the fact that I find myself using my "teacher voice" more than I ever thought possible, my kids actually like me. I know that isn't the point of teaching, but any teacher will freely admit that it's nice to be liked.

On Valentine's Day, many of my students brought be goodies and notes. On random days, I'll receive other little gifts, such as muffins or sweets. One student even gave me a beautiful piece of rose quartz "to remember her and the class by" when I leave. Everyday, students from my class and the classes I've subbed in chase me for hugs. However, it wasn't until the other day that I received the best compliment of all.

One of my boys (we'll call him Caleb), shouted across the nearly empty room, "Miss Macintire, why don't you have a boyfriend?" I am not even sure how he knew that I was single, but I just laughed and humored him by replying, "I'm not sure, Caleb. It must be because I'm all the way in South Africa."

A few minutes later, Caleb came up to me and said, "My parents are divorced because they argued too much. And my mom lives ALL the way in Capetown." I wasn't sure why he was telling me this, but I told him that it's sad when parents divorce. I told him my parents were divorced too--sometimes that happens. I pointed out that it was nice he got to spend a lot of time with his dad--just the boys! I thought the was the end...

After the bell rang to let school out, he came up to me with his hands pressed against his mouth. "What's up, Caleb?" I asked. He was obviously embarrassed by what he wanted to say. "My dad..." he tried to suppress his nervous laughter. "My dad is really nice!" He quickly scurried out of the room as I started to piece this all together. But surely it was my imagination.

After I walked the class outside and I was giving my final hugs for the day, he came up to me again. "Miss Macintire, my dad told me to tell you that he kind of likes you." I tried so hard not to laugh! Now I am absolutely sure that this dad said nothing of the sort since I have never met or seen him. However, how flattered am I that my student wants me to be his new mom! Like I said--best compliment of all! However, it may be slightly awkward when I meet his dad in a couple of weeks at Parent Night.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lions, Elephants, and Rhinos--Oh My!

We finally got to go on a real safari! This past weekend has been the
best by far! On Saturday, we went to Schotia, which is a 3,000 acre
game reserve only 45 minutes from PE. We had the owner's son, Justin,
pick us up at our house and be our private tour guide (yes, we are
that important). As we drove into the reserve, we were greeted by
wildebeests, zebras, and some red hartebeests. One of the zebra's
stripes didn't match up on his back thigh, and Justin told us that it
was where a lion had attacked him. We drove on and saw many
springboks, blesboks, vervet monkeys, warthogs, kudu, ostriches, etc.
However, we were mostly excited to see the giraffes, hippos, rhinos,
and LIONS!

They only have seven lions in Schotia, and we got to see four of them.
Unfortunately, they had just eaten so we didn't get to see any
exciting hunt like on the Discovery Channel. The males were so
exhausted from stuffing themselves that they just laid by the road.
Justin let me hop of the top of the vehicle and stand just 20 feet
away from the lion (it's always smart to ask)! It was so exciting! I
can practically say that I was almost attacked by a lion because if he
wanted, he could have had me.

That night, on our way to Bushcamp, we drove around to see some night
animals. We saw a lot of the antelope family, spring hares, zebras,
and the lions. On our drive we saw a spring hare hopping quickly
towards a springbok walking the other direction. They both must have
been blinded by the spotlight because they ran right into each other!
They both seemed quite stunned and walked away a little shaken. It
was pretty hilarious!

Bushcamp is literally that. From the outside it looks like a cluster
of trees, but as you get closer you can see a small gate. Through the
gate, there is a clearing with a couple of sleep cabins and a bathroom
set around a bonfire. Not a lot of people get to stay here, but, as
mentioned earlier, we are special.

In the morning, we drove around the park to visit our animal friends
again before we headed to Addo Elephant Park. We met Ali's
cooperating teacher there so she could give us the grand tour. It
hasn't sufficiently rained here in 8 months so we knew we would
probably see some elephants around the watering holes. However, I was
stunned when I was greeted with about 50 elephants at the first water
holes. There were herds of them! They were playing in the water and
tossing mud on their bodies to protect themselves from the sun. There
were babies nestled closely to their mothers for protection. I nearly
cried at the site. (As you should know, if you know anything about
me, elephants are my absolute favorite animal.)

We continued driving to see more of the watering holes, and we met so
many elephants along the way. Throughout the park, we probably saw a
total of 200 to 300 elephants. It was such an amazing experience.
While we didn't really see any other animals (just some
antelope-family-boks, warthogs, and jackals), we definitely got our
fill of elephants. I am open to falling in love with a safari guide
and moving here—just so you all know.

Canoeing on the Sundays River

Last Saturday, as in February 6th, we went on a "canoe safari" on the
Sundays River. We met our oh-so-handsome guide, Chris, at his
parents' beautiful Bed & Breakfast, Crislin. Minutes later, we were
hopping into our canoes and faced with a narrow canal and lots of
reeds. I had stated from the beginning that I wanted to sit up front,
but because Jessica has a fancy camera, she won the front of our
canoe, and I was stuck steering. Apparently, canoeing is not
necessarily a skill you remember if you haven't done it since you were
in your early teens.

I tried my hardest to steer the canoe away from the reeds with my
feeble arms but failed miserably for the first half of the river.
Luckily, Jessica broke most of the reeds and brush with her face and
body before they reached me.

The river was beautiful and so peaceful. Chris told us he had grown
up on the river and spent time finding fossils and spotting wildlife.
Even just the other day, he was searching through the dirt and spotted
an off white object. He dug around the object and discovered a two
foot long piece of an elephant's ivory tusk. He showed it to us, and
I even got to pick it up. It was extremely heavy and about 8 inches
in diameter. He said the elephant was about 58 years old when it was
killed for this tusk. He called a museum, and they priced it at
around R2,000,000 (about $300,000).

We knew that this "safari" was really a bird safari, and we really
wouldn't see any other wildlife. However, we were so excited to spot
a Goliath Heron. This bird was as tall as me and looked prehistoric
as it walked on the bank. As we were snapping pictures, we heard a
splash and a small moan in the water close by. We looked over and saw
a small brown nose peeking out from the water. As the animal pushed
up for air, we realized it was a baby donkey—drowning!

We yelled for Chris to come over. I was terrified he would brush it
off and say something about not wanting to interfere with the circle
of life. In the distance, we could hear the mother donkey braying for
her son. Chris rushed over and shouted for us to check our canoes for
rope. I found a short piece and was terrified it wouldn't be long
enough. However, Chris quickly tied the rope around his neck, and he
and his friend, JP, began to pull. Chris decided he would have to get
in the water to push the baby donkey out over the bank. He saw that
there was a huge drop off and no place for the donkey to stand. After
much struggling and avoiding being kicked, Chris pushed the exhausted
donkey onto dry land. The donkey stood there breathing heavily but
nearly unharmed other than a small scrape on his nose.

Obviously, this was a fantastic event for me to witness and will live
in my memory forever.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I Love Trees

Yes, I love trees. If you know anything about me, you probably know that trees are my favourite thing in the world. I love absolutely everything about them, and this past weekend, I spent every moment in the trees.

Saturday morning, we drove 2 1/2 hours to Tsitsikamma to go tree-top canopy ziplining. I wasn't nervous at all until our instructor, Distin, told us to be careful that we didn't place our hands in the wrong place because we might cut off our fingers or pull our arm out of socket. Oh, yes, and don't hold on too tight. Well, that's nice. I'm sliding 90 meters above the ground and you don't want me to hold on too tight. Easy. The first couple of lines I was every so slightly shaky and didn't really want to look down. However, I soon got the hang of it and zipped over beautiful trees and giant ferns only to land on 600+ year-old trees. Yes, I hugged the trees. On my last zipline, I felt so comfortable, I gave a little booty dance for the camera.

Now this next part I debated putting in my blog because I would hate for my mother and aunt to think me irresponsible. However, here it is.

That night we were going to be spending the night in a treehouse. Yes, a grown-up treehouse--just like the one I hope to someday live in. It was one of the girl's birthday so we want to buy a bit of booze to celebrate in our treehouse. However, it is illegal to sell alcohol after 5 p.m. in South Africa. Who knew? Well, we didn't. A lady at the grocery store recommended that we go to a bar and ask to buy their alcohol for take-out. This was promptly shut down by a couple of bars. However, a man at one bar told us he could take us to a shebeen (a place that sells alcohol illegally usually in black neighbourhoods in South Africa) where we could buy some. Well, that sounded a bit shady. However, the lady bartender said we would be very safe if this man went with us but we could not go alone because it was a "coloured" area.

I don't know if I can defend why we decided to do this, but we did. We got in our car and hid our wallets, pulling out only enough cash for the alcohol. We followed this man first to the gas station so he could pick up a black man who knew that neighborhood. As we drove, we did not feel nervous at all. The neighbourhood was not as "dodgy" as the bartender had suggested. Two of us got out of the car and went to purchase the alcohol from the shebeen while the rest of us stayed in the car. No one ever even looked at us except to smile and wave. There were children walked around and celebrating a birthday party. It felt completely safe. The girls who went in the shebeen said it was very relaxed and they even danced a little to the loud music playing. I know that this could have turned out to be a semi-scary situation, but I am glad we did it. After all, we got our bit of booze and celebrated Jessica's birthday in our treehouse.

The Tanekwa treehouse was absolutely amazing! I would live there if I could. There are 8 treehouses spread out over a hill-each one with a loo with a view. Yes, you could shower while looking out over the trees and the sunrise. The entire place is eco-friendly. Our toilet was a composting toilet, our water was pumped from the (brown but clean) river below, and our drinking water was purified rainwater. In the morning, we hiked all the way down the mountain to swim in the Coca-Cola River (actually called the Caratara River). The water is stained brown from the trees in the forest, but it is perfectly clean and tastes sweet and smooth.

Unfortunately, we did not get to stay at Tanekwa for very long because we had a four hour drive back home. On the way home, we stopped at a cafe for some lunch and watched a monkey steal some bread and skimper off (as I chased him). We also stopped along the way to snap some pictures of wild blessboks in a pasture of horses. However, we didn't get any pictures of the ostriches that I saw, but we'll get plenty of pictures later--when we ride them! :) What a great weekend!