The Garden Route

Over Monday and Tuesday, the group traveled along the infamous South African Garden Route. Along the route we visited the Kynsa Elephant Park, Birds of Eden, Tsitsikamma Forest, and a few adventurous spots.
The elephant park was amazing! Walking up we could see the elephants peering in the distance waiting for us. As we walk into the entrance, employees ask us if we wanted to buy fruit to feed the elephants – an option everyone took full advantage of. For 30 rand we could get a bucket of assorted fruits to feed these gentle giants. Before heading out into the field we saw a video of elephants educating us on their history and their fierce attempt to stay alive from poachers. They are after their tucks which are made of ivory. After the video we went to where the elephants sleep at night. Each one has a cage that they go into at night. This is to keep them safe. Don’t worry an employee is there at all times to make sure they have food, water, and comfort. We then drive down to the field to feed the elephants and take pictures! They stand behind a wooden bar and reach out their trunks towards us and we hand them fruit, very similar to how you feed horses. The bigger elephants get fed the most and to feed the babies we have to gently toss the fruit to the ground near them. Feeding is very competitive. After our buckets are empty, we can go and touch the elephants. We had no idea that their skin was so rough but the skin has tiny hairs. The was truly an experience to remember.
On Tuesday we went to the Birds of Eden, which is a bird sanctuary to re-home unwanted birds to give them an opportunity to live in a natural environment. There are about 2,000 birds comprising over 180 species. As we walk along a guided path, our tour guide points out different birds and their name and where they are from. One favorite was the Knysna Lourie, from Southeast Africa. This gorgeous lime green bird was always hopping about. It had quite the personality. We saw Tucans, Golden Makaw, and Starlings and many more! The sanctuary is enclosed in wire mesh that encapsulates 3.2 hectares making it easy to spot many different species of birds.
After the Birds of Eden, the group made an unexpected stop at the Bloukrans Bridge run by Face Adreneline, the worlds highest bungy bridge in the world. Seven students chose to jump the 216 meter fall over the Storms River. Don’t worry parents they all made it back, myself being one of them. This company had a 100% safety score with a professional staff. They were not messing around. We first were weighted for the jump and it was written on our hands along with the time of our jump and our jump number. We then got fixed for harnesses and waited about 30 minutes to go to the bungy bridge. Spectators could get food and watch live feed as they watch fellow classmates blummet towards the forest and river beneath. As music was blared into our heads, the seven of us jumped one by one. We didn’t even pick the order in which we jumped, the staff had it down to a science. It all depended on our weight. Even though I was jump 12 I went second out of the group of about nine. If you want to watch live videos of jumps visit their website at Www.faceadrenalin.com if you can’t believe we jumped… We have videos and pictures :)
After the jumps, the rest of the group wanted some action… But not that intense, the group could chose to walk through the Tsitsikamma Forest or go zip lining through. Overall this day was an adventurous day for everyone!

Raulston and Christy

A Visit to an Orphanage

On Sunday we stopped at an AIDS orphanage in Cape Town before starting our journey down the garden route. The experience we shared at the orphanage could never be put into words and it was an experience we will all remember for the rest of our lives. 

As soon as we arrived we met an amazing woman named “Mama.” Mama cares for this children with the help of a few other women every single day. She informed us that these children were either suffering from HIV themselves or had been abandoned after there parents had died from AIDS. 

Seeing the children for the first time was incredible. As soon as the door was opened they came running to us to pick them up and play with them. Even though it was noticeable that some of the children were extremely sick it didn’t stop them from grinning ear to ear. We were suprised at how well they shared and how different each personality was. During our hour and a half stay there we were able to see just how hard these women had to work to take care of so many children. Although they were very busy, you could easily see the love they had for every single child. 

When it was time to go they lined up the children and sang a song for us. One very sweet little boy even continued singing after everyone else had stopped. Although we wished we could have stayed longer, we had to board the bus to head down the Garden Route. As we started to drive away the children stood at the fence waving goodbye to us.

Raulston and Christy

The Amy Biehl Foundation

On the 12th we visited two schools funded by the Amy Biehl Foundation. At the first school we split up into two groups with the children. The students were very eager to ask us questions and learn about our plans in life. When we asked them the same, they wanted to become doctors, teacher, and help those in need. To be so young and under some unfortunate circumstances it was amazing to hear their dreams for their future. After getting to mingle with the children the two groups either helped them in the garden where the children learn to grow their own food, or helped them create recycled bookmarks that they will sale to raise money for the Amy Biehl Foundation.

At our next stop the children put on a perform for us. We were all amazed by the talent that these children have. Some were part of a percussion ensemble, some were dancers, and some were part of the choir. Their energy was explosive during each performance and we all left feeing that they had give back to us more than we could ever give to them.

It was great to see first hand the difference that the Amy Biehl Foundation is making on the lives of so many children that otherwise might not have these opportunities.

After our visits to the school we went to a local bed and breakfast type place where the owner prepared a delicious traditional South African lunch for us. Lunch was followed by a trip to the stadium in Cape Town that was built for the 2010 world cup. Here we watched the local Cape Town team Ajax take on Golden Arrows. We were told by locals that the team was not very good but we were lucky enough to see them win 4 to 1. We were given free time that evening to go explore the city. 

Raulston and Christy

Sites, Sounds, Tastes, and People

Today we went to Table Mountain and meet with the Univerity of Cape Town students. Photos of Table Moutain do not do this site justice. It was recently named one of the seven natural wonders of the world! Pictures are coming soon! We could see all of Cape Town!
After the mountain we went to the top university of South Africa. They only have 18 universities compared to the US’s thousands. The students said it is very competitive to get into any of the schools. Talking with the students we found that we had similar interests like politics, going out to bars, and studying for classes. They skip classes too! They mingle with friends, cram before exams, and gossip! We found out that there is still a strong divide between races. Intermixed relationships are still frowned upon and sometimes friendships are compromised. It is common for a black community to help pay for one child to go to school while the white it is left up to a single family. The older black generation views the younger black generation as abandoning their heritage and becoming “too white” for wanting an education. The college students seemed to have the same views on racism as we do comparing that this is still an opened wound in this country’s history. The university has around 26,000 students and popular majors include health science, engineering, and the humanities. Completely different from Queens!
After the university we were given a free afternoon to go to the waterfront, go to wineries, or go take a well deserved nap!

Raulston: I personally went to the wineries where a few of us got to taste authentic South African wine! We spent more time at Eagles Nest tasting all seven wines. They are famous for their 2009 Shiraz made with dark berries and has the aroma of violets and white pepper. They also have merlot, verreaux, Sauvignon blanc, and viognier. My favorite was the crisp taste of the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc that tasted of green melon, pineapple, and guavas. The tasting cost 30 Rand which is about 5 dollars. The sunset coming back was truely breath taking watching the sun disappear under the ocean. Afterwards we enjoyed a small dinner at Tan Que, a local restaurant and a night out on Cape Town’s infamous Long Street!

Christy: During my free time I took the hop on hop off bus around the blue route which took us on the side of table mountain we had yet to explore. The views were absolutely unbelievable as we traveled down the coast. I hopped off the bus at the water front with Molly, Cassie, and Lauren. When we first got off we went through a craft market that sold a variety of homemade crafts from locals. Most of the stands gave all the proceeds back to the craftsmen so it made buying gifts for friends and family even better. We then walked down to the V&A water front which is right on the bay. This fun area contains restaurants, shops, live performers, carnival rides, and a mall. We ate dinner on the balcony of a restaurant and watched the sun set on Table Mountain. Afterwards we ate gellato, which seems to be a staple dessert here in cape town.

Coming to Africa

Hey everyone,
Today we spent the day walking around Robben Island and Cape Town. Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his prison life. As we take the ferry to the island we could see a beautiful view of Cape Town with Table Mountain in the background. When we first started walking onto the island we saw a ferry that was small white and blue that was used to bring convicts here. Those who still live on the island wanted to keep it the same as when prisoners first came to prison. Walking onto the bus we took a tour of the small island where we saw tennis courts (surprisingly), a church, the prison, and a cemetery specified for those who were stricken with lemprosy. The island was first used as a dumping ground for the chronic diseases. Genders were also separated because they didn’t want people to reproduce.
When we walked into the actual prison, our tour guide was a former captive. We were walked through the procedures that he went through in 1977. There were four groups A,B,C,D that depended on how “good” they were. Each group had privileges or consequences (A being the best). Our tour guide moved around in the groups during his stay. We were stunned to see Nelson Mandela’s single cell that was decorated with the cloth and utensils that he would have had. Walking around the prison we saw where political leaders and activist put aside their differences to play football, eat, and quiz each other on their thoughts. It was truely an eye opening experience. After the tour we walked back onto the ferry to catch another far off view of our four-day home.
After Robben Island we spend three hours walking around the city where we saw the green market where touristy goods are bargained and sold. Some of us came in handy with bargaining for gifts to bring back to friends and family. We caught some lunch at a local shop and continued walking around with our tour guide Karen (specialized in walking tours). We saw the presidents mansion, gardens, Desmond Tutu’s church, and crazy squirrels that ate right out of our hands! We stopped by a museum that was dedicated to District 6, an area torn apart by the apartheid laws. We saw Parlament buildings decorated with columns and Queen Elizabeth statues. Our first day at Cape town was a wonderful and gorgeous day!
For dinner the group went to Gold Restuarant where we enjoyed authentic African food and three separate performances from the staff. They even painted our faces!
Goodnight to all!

Raulston and Christy

Departure

Hi all!
We landed in Cape Town after three flights and 24 hours of airtime! Even in the dark Cape Town looks amazing. We meet our tour guide Roy at the airport and he took us to our hotel, the Ritz. We were all exhausted after the flight but while traveling down the highway we saw a township, where the empoverished are mostly located. Even in the dark we could see the shanty town full of plated aluminum sheeted houses. We can already tell that we are going to be in for a culture shock. We could barely see Table Mountain as we travel into the skyscraper city. We saw Lamborghinis and other wealthy shops as we make our way to the hotel.
We can’t wait for our packed day tomorrow in Robben Island and a walking tour in Cape Town!
Raulston and Christy

The Cradle of Humankind and then back home

From Struwig, we drove all the way back to Johannesburg. We visited the Apartheid museum, which had a special exhibit on Nelson Mandela, and the township of Soweto. We also visited the Cradle of Humankind; this is an area just outside of Jo’burg where several of the most important fossils relating to the evolution of hominids have been found.

The afternoon after we visited the Cradle, we arrived at the airport to fly back home after our very exciting, fulfilling, once-in-a-lifetime adventure!

In the wilds of Africa!

After completing our work at the creche, we went on a drive in Kruger National Park. We had some exhilarating experiences there– but I’ll let your favorite student share those stories with you!
from Shalati, we continued on to Struwig, which was even further “in the bush” than Shalati had been. At Struwig, which is an extension of the Kruger lands, we went on several drives on which we saw TONS of different kinds of animals. But, I don’t want to spoil it, so I’ll again refer you to your favorite student to hear more. ;)

Our work here is done!

This is the inside of the playroom that we painted. The teacher had wanted pictures of “The Big Five” on the walls, so that’s what she got! Rebeca sketched out a lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo on the walls, and we added a tree, using handprints of the children, staff, and ourselves as the leaves. For those of you who might not be familiar with “The Big Five”, the term refers to the 5 animals that are most dangerous for people to hunt. These days, the term more commonly (we hope, at least!) refers simply to the animals that tourists might like most to see. Our all-female group of students was joined by an exchange student from an Indiana high school for this endeavor (seen in the red shirt in this photo).
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