Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Hop On – Hop Oh God – Wednesday, June 18, 2014

I have to come clean about this…….I did a Hop On Hop Off bus in Johannesburg. In my defense though, I had an unplanned day in Joburg. Safety tips before I arrived warned me to not write down the actual name of my hotel on my customs form because the customs officials were known to hand those names off to friends if they spotted an unaccompanied female. (Cue scene from Taken.) Also, from the official Joburg airport site: “Public transport shouldn’t be used because it’s not safe.” Pretty straightforward. 

So ridicule me for it all you’d like, but I figured a Hop On Hop Off bus would be the easiest way for me to take in everything Joburg had to offer in the 8 hours I had to spend in the city between waking up at the hostel and going back to the airport for my flight to Istanbul. (It was also the cheapest tour option and the only one that didn’t require an advance reservation.) And I was not wrong…it was awesome!!

I took a cab from my hostel to Ghandi Square first thing in the morning, eager to meet my bus. Nervous about being late and failing at my whole itinerary, I arrived about 15 minutes early. Which seemed to be 14 minutes WAY TOO EARLY when I took a look around the square which, despite the name, did not quite come off as peaceful. I re-considered my plan of taking out cash and instead distracted myself by practicing “fuck you” faces in a nearby window. A favorite pastime really. I actually got so distracted with this activity that I missed the HUGE RED DOUBLE DECKER BUS (there weren’t too many of them) when it came driving through the square. I had to resign to pathetically running after the bus, waving it down, for fear of making “fuck you” faces at myself (and all passerby) for the next two hours. The driver commented that he had assumed I was there for the bus, but that I had looked so content that he wasn’t sure. Crisis #1 Avoided.

I paid my fee, grabbed my headphones, and sat back to listen to the history of Johannesburg while I comfortably – and safely – took in the sights. I stayed that passive way for about an hour until we arrived at the Gold Reef Casino (fun fact that I didn’t know: Joburg is the largest city in the world not on any large navigable body of water – BECAUSE there was gold there). Here, I paid the $30 upgrade to HOP OFF my Hop On Hop Off bus to go to Soweto.

Because Soweto (aka the South Western Township) is really what people think of when they think of Johannesburg: miles upon miles of shantytowns for as far as the eye can see. I couldn’t believe I was paying money to go tour poverty. It’s everything I hated about tourists in Rwanda when I lived there…but I also couldn’t imagine going to Johannesburg and not visiting Soweto. (When would I be back?)

Again. I am SO HAPPY that I did. I was the only person on my route who decided to upgrade to the Soweto tour. And instead of listening to an audio recording, this tour was hosted by a real, live tour guide. Which meant that I had a PERSONAL 2 HOUR TOUR of Soweto by an awesome, wonderful, enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guide.  (Seriously – her name is Brenda and we’ve been in email contact since. If you’re ever headed to Joburg, let me know and I’ll put you in touch.)

Brenda is from Soweto and she was so excited to share it with an outsider. Not embarrassed – proud. She also works with tourists all the time and is used to requests for pictures – so she’s the source of more than half the pictures I have from this trip. Enjoy! [Read the captions - the rest of the update is in the captions.]

FNB Stadium
When I was last in South Africa (in 2008), they were in the process of building the stadiums for the 2010 World Cup. It was controversial at the time (and it never really stopped being controversial…but what’s an international sporting event without controversy), but I was so excited to watch it with Cory (he came back!) while we were at Tuck Bridge. And then it was awesome to see one of the stadiums in person! 
Orlando Towers
Before you even enter Soweto, you see the Orlando Towers – and you see them from most places in the Township as well. If you look closely, you’ll see a bridge between the two towers. You can bungee jump off of that. That was the other thing I was seriously considering doing this day. But since I’ve already gone skydiving in South Africa, I figured I’d save my mom the blood pressure by just taking a picture in front of them instead. (Brenda didn’t like how stoic I was in my FNB picture and forced me to be more “fun” in this one…)  
Welcome to Soweto!
The population of Soweto is about the same (a little more than) as the population of Johannesburg proper. It’s very much a city in its own right – not just the shantytown I had imagined. (Maybe you’re all judging my naiveté – but I think not.) Note the houses on the side of the road – they are actual, legitimate houses. Brenda was very proud of showing off how much of an actual suburb most parts of Soweto are – that it’s a place that middle-class people are proud to live. ALSO note the vuvezelas on the street median. They were everywhere. Couldn’t get away.
Vilakazi Street
Did you know that Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu grew upon the same street? I thought Rope Ferry Rd was special for sending so many kids to St. Paul’s…but it’s got nothing on Vilakazi Street which has two Nobel Laureates. (PS – I met Desmond Tutu during Semester at Sea!)
Mandela House
I don’t want to say that I didn’t fully appreciate what Mandela meant to South African people (and…the world) – but it was an incredible experience to visit his house (now museum) six months after his death. Is there anybody who is so widely acknowledged as a hero in America? Whose death would be so widely mourned?
Mandela House – 2
Brenda is a great tour guide. She made me take pictures with me in them. 
Mandela House – 3
I am not used to taking pictures while touring. I also don’t dress in anticipation of it. 
Kliptown – Museum
At a few points during the tour, a volunteer tour guide took over from Brenda for a bit. (It’s a little obvious that the volunteers are just hoping that they can one day be hired as real tour guides – but they had the same enthusiasm to show off their township to outsiders. And yeah…I gave them a few rand. So sorry. I’m an American tourist and I really appreciated what they were doing.) This particular tour guide showed me the South Africa Bill of Rights, which is carved into stone in an open museum in Kliptown. Notably, they have an article stating that women are entitled to paid maternity leave. Imagine that
Kliptown – 2
Okay. Okay. Before you start thinking that Joburg is nicer than Providence (possible?)…I’ll point out that there still IS poverty and, as much as my tour guides might not have wanted me to see it, there were areas where there were shanties on the side of the road. Straight out of the commercials…right? 
Apartheid Museum
After two hours in Soweto, Brenda and the driver dropped me off at the Apartheid Museuem…where I spent ANOTHER two hours. Incredibly emotionally draining…you are randomly assigned on your ticket if you are White, Black, or Colored and you enter a different door/have a different experience in the museum because of it. Although you’re transfixed by everything in your section, you can’t help but wonder what you’re missing out on in the other section…and like…can’t you just go out and go back in the other door to experience the other section? No. You cannot. Well…maybe you can go buy another ticket but you risk the same randomization for your color assignment. And that’s just where it starts. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to journal after this experience because I was SO GOOD at my timing that I basically ran out to the bus to HOP ON to my next stop. 

South African Breweries
Yeah…don’t worry about it…I obviously HOPPED OFF at the South African Breweries stop. Unfortunately the tour was two hours and I didn’t have the time for that, so instead I walked across the street to the science museum. Seriously…Hop On Hop Off busses are amazing…How was there so much time for all of this in one day? Before a 6:45pm international flight??
Nelson Mandela Bridge
Okay…after that, I did have to stay on the bus. But look at this shot of the Nelson Mandela Bridge!
Bus Selfie
Because…why not? Note the blue over my right shoulder…there were actually other tourists doing the same thing! It wasn’t just me!
The very trendy part of town – where all the cool college kids hang. Too cool for me obvs.

Public Transport
Remember that guideline that public transportation should be “avoided at all costs”? Whatevs…I took the Gautrain back to the airport and I’m fine now. I also still have a card if anybody wants to borrow for their trip to Safrica.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Planes, Planes and Airports – Tuesday, June 17, 2014

In which I diverge from the carefully written out itinerary I sent my parents - because like...why should they be worried about a LAM flight? - to take a flight on a different day from an airport that advertised skydiving lessons in the waiting room.
Car Rental in Tofo, Mozambique. Note the "Bus" is a horse. 
Since you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you know I’m not much of a planner. I really wish I could somehow track the cumulative dollars I have spent on paying for plane ticket transfer/change fees in my life. Knowing that number might incentivize me to pay the extra upfront fee to ensure tickets are transferrable because I should just admit…I’m not a good enough planner to know something like what flight I want to be on in advance of…the day of the flight.

Anyways, I booked my return flight from Tofo/Inhambane for June 18. Partially this is because I am bad at math when it comes to days (I never understand…do you subtract the numbers and add one?? Or two??) and partially because I was expecting/hoping that I would love scuba diving SO MUCH that I would just want to stay in Tofo for another day/forever after Cory left. But this was not the case and, after a week at the beach, I was ready to leave on the same day as Cory.

When I had learned the Cory’s flight was a day before mine even before we started the trip, I actually had tried to email LAM (Mozambique Airlines) to change my ticket. Those emails weren’t fruitful, so I tried to call them. This required adding more $$ to my Google Voice account (which you can only add in $10 increments) to make an international call. And then when I could never get through to them during their “business hours”, I asked my mom to do it. She miraculously got through to them and they gave her a range of how much extra it would cost and said I’d have to come into a LAM office to change it. At this point, I just gave up and figured I’d figure it out when I got there.

So Cory and I took a chappa back to the airport with ample time before our flights.

Too much time.

There was nobody at the airport when we arrived. In classic Eli-Mitchell-must-check-if-every-door-is-locked-or-unlocked fashion, I found myself on the roof (air traffic control tower?) while looking for an agent. I haven’t been to enough small airports in the US (max 2 flights per day) to know if this is an Africa thing or a small airport thing, but I do have to say…it’s pretttyyy exciting to find yourself on the top of the unlocked roof of an airport!

That gate to the right looks unlocked to me!
So much to see from the top of the Inhambane Airport/Air Traffic Control Tower!!
We eventually found somebody and I discovered why I needed to be in person to change my ticket. Literally everything was handwritten. After ~10 minutes of silent calculations, looking up I don’t really know what and typing frantically onto a desk calculator, the agent handed me a handwritten receipt (in pencil!) showing how much I owed for the change. I paid in cash.

Then she handed over a handwritten boarding pass and I was off to Joburg!

Cory's handwritten boarding pass

It was quite a last-minute decision to fly out on the 17th instead of the 18th and it meant that I didn’t have a place to stay or any plans in Joburg. I basically emailed the hostel Cory had stayed at while he was in Joburg saying “I will arrive at the airport at this time. Can you please pick me up? I will pay you.” When we got to the airport, I learned that my flight was actually THREE HOURS later than I thought it was going to be. I was flipping out that I wouldn’t have a ride to pick me up in Joburg, but luckily, they were running on Africa time and were actually 15 minutes late picking me up (okay…3 hours and 15 minutes late…), but it all worked out.
Good byeee Cory!! We were actually on different flights. All the times were very confusing. Had we been on the same flight, I would have just been waiting in the Joburg airport for a much longer time for my ride to show up. Maybe so long I would've cried.
Many years ago, I had emailed with an older St. Paul’s Alum who was living in Joburg. Not having plans for my 24 hours there at all, I emailed her off-the-cuff to ask if she was still living there and if she’d want to get dinner. She and her husband came to pick me up at the hostel and treated me to a great Italian dinner out. Love the St. Paul’s community!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

World Cup – Monday, June 16, 2014

The World Cup saved us. Kind of. It suddenly came in and gave us something to do. It put something on TV in which we were marginally interested. (Uruguay vs. Costa Rica anybody? Who knew how important that game would end up being…) And it made it socially acceptable to just sit in a bar all day and drink.

However, games didn’t start until 7pm local time in Mozambique. Which meant that second games were are 10pm…and third games were at 1am. We could, of course, watch the entire match again in a bar the next day (and we usually did), but it was way more fun to watch them live. Especially when the US was playing Ghana!!!

Cory and I decided that we needed to do something to really celebrate this. So, in classic American tradition, we decided to make some Mexican food: guacamole and salsa! The market had everything we needed and we even asked our little samosa boy if he could make us samosa with no filling (he asked: “you mean chips?” umm yeah…chips was exactly what we wanted). We borrowed bowls and utensils from the kitchen at Casa Barry and chopped and mixed away on our porch. It was amazing. It tasted so good. We were so excited to show it off at the 1am game. Everybody knew we had made something for the US game but they didn’t know what. I’m not sure what they were expecting, but everybody was very confused when we excitedly revealed our chips, salsa and quac. Nobody wanted any. It was so sad. Not even the other Americans! (And PS – Every non-American was cheering for Ghana.) So we sat there from 1 to 3am and regrettably ate all of our own salsa and guac. Sad face.

We made a new chill surfer friend at Casa Barry. He was there for breakfast and invited us out on his adventure to the lighthouse. We had been wanting to go to the lighthouse since our first walk on the beach when we realized just how misleadingly far it was! And our new friend had a car and used to live in Mozambique and spoke Portuguese fluently! So we hopped in and headed there. Had a fun adventuring afternoon and learned tons from our new friend about the history of Mozambique. He stopped by the bar later that night while Cory was back in our room so he just gave me a little care package of things that might “save Cory”. It had band aids (true – Cory probably needed those) and some Christian reading materials with a link to our new friend’s blog which was all about how he used to be a sweet surfer dude doing mountains of coke in LA until he found Jesus. I didn’t know what to think about the fact that he didn’t seem to want to save me, but I just handed the packet in its entirety over to Cory when he returned. The people you meet on beaches in Mozambique.

Accidentally artsy pic of the lighthouse. Didn't realize my camera mode was on black and white because it was SO BRIGHT out I had no chance of actually seeing what the picture I had taken looked like. 
Cory and I have VERY FEW pictures of the two of us together on this trip. But at least I have a few quality creeper shots of him!

[To be clear: I watched every single World Cup match up until June 21. Every single one. When I landed in Boston, we were tied in the second half of the Portugal game – this is when we still kinda thought Portugal was a contender even after the 4-0 loss to Germany – and I was going crazy in the customs line. I got yelled at and was told to put my phone away. When I got through the line we were WINNING and I booked it into the first bar I could find. It had the match on, but absolutely nobody was paying attention to it. I was going crazy, loving having my phone back and being able to text everybody and watching every second of the match right up until the Portugal goal to tie it with seconds left. I was devastated, and nobody else in the stupid US bar where they don’t watch soccer seemed to care.]

A Day of Boredom (Pictures) – Sunday, June 15, 2014

We had two days after scuba ended to just chill on the beach in Mozambique. This is because we way overestimated the “decompression time” required for our 10m dives. Also, while Googling in anticipation of the trip, we learned that the US Navy and the US Air Force have different decompression tables (not that we knew what one of those actually was before our video lessons), and we didn’t really know which to trust, so we just went conservative. Anyways, we had a lot of time on the beach on this particular day which just reinforced that I am a lakes and mountains girl and I don’t like long walks on the beach.

So rather than recount that boringness, here are some pictures!

Pool selfies!
This is from our story of paying Pedro to bring us beer on the beech. Note bracelet basket and beers in the background. We held the bracelet basket as ransom while Pedro went to buy beer with our $$.
Happier times with Pedro on the beach...note that I am still holding a closed beer bottle. Although we didn't want Pedro to open the beer bottle with his teeth, I bet he had something in his backpack that could have helped us get to our alcohol sooner. 
Cory, taking a first stab the the beer opening. 
Scuba diving.
Okay...pretty sweet scuba diving picture. Cory refused to take a disposable underwater camera scuba diving with him. He said it was "too touristy". I figured I was white, so I already looked like a tourist. Anyways, I got all pissy at Cory about this because I was like "but that means I won't have any pictures of ME scuba diving!" So then when we were underwater (and I guess the fear of being "too touristy" is less), Cory grabbed the camera from me and snapped this shot. Real happy about that because it's way better than the quality of any of the pictures I got of him. Thanks Cory!
Scuba diving was a whole lot of looking at things like this and being like "oohh...ahhh". But then really just being cold and bored and being like "can I go do backflips?" And then the assistant (who didn't get what "New" before "Hampshire" meant) would pull me back to the group thinking I was off getting lost somewhere.
Note the kid in the background. He was also getting his scuba certification. The last thing we had to do to pass our certification test was swim into shore. This was hilarious because I realized that our instructor literally never asked us if we could swim - it was just assumed. Which I guess is reasonable, expect that it seemed our Mozambican companion could not swim. I think he failed that part of the test when the assistant had to swim back out and help him get in. It turns out that many people in Tofo can't swim, despite growing up steps from the ocean. This makes a little sense though, if you think about how difficult it would be to LEARN to swim right where waves are breaking. Although all the hotels have pools, most of the locals don't have access to them. The Marine and Megafauna Foundation set of  a "Little Nemos" swim school for local kids to teach them to swim. Hotels in the area donate some pool time each week to the local kids so they can use it to learn to blow bubbles and float and then finally do some strokes. We saw them in an out of Casa Barry and it was awesome!
I'm actually probably crying in this goggles. Being like "oh my god...what do I have to do this again??"
This is just a great selfie.

Conversation with our English scuba assistant:
Her: Where are you from?
Me: New Hampshire
Her: Ah! There’s a Hampshire in England!
Me: ...