Week Twenty - on the road again 11/20/2010
My head is spinning round, my heart is in my shoes, yeah
I went and set the Thames on fire, oh, now I must come back down
She's laughing in her sleeve boys, I can feel it in my bones
Oh, but anywhere I'm gonna lay my head, I'm gonna call my home
-Tom Waits, Anywhere I Lay My head
Day One Hundred and Thirty Five October 30th
Today is a rainy day of sorts, almost always cloudy with a few sprinkles here and there. We spend the morning at school and playing around the house. At long last we are starting to feel settled in and get used to this Cape Town lifestyle. It suits us after the run of constant activity we have had this past few months. I am just now starting to feel a bit rested and relaxed.
Our big activity today takes us around to the other side of Table Mountain to Kirstenbosch Gardens. On the drive over the skies get darker and darker and the weather much more ominous, but we forge on. There is a heavy mist when we arrive. The place is absolutely beautiful.
The gardens are set on the side of a hill sloping up towards the rim of Table Mountain. They were first set aside as gardens way back around 1900. However, people had been planting and farming here since the early 1600s so much of the landscape has been worked for centuries.
I am not sure why we like it so. Perhaps it is the gentle mist or maybe the peace and quiet. There are indigenous grasses, plants and trees in various stages of bloom. A whole section is devoted to medicinal plants with detailed descriptions of their ability to cure ailments of every conceivable type. Sadly and maybe only in Africa, there is a large sub section for plants used in fighting AIDS and AIDS related issues.
Here’s why: There was an estimated 5.7 million people living with HIV and AIDS in South Africa in 2009, more than in any other country. It is believed that in 2008, over 250,000 South Africans died of AIDS. Prevalence is more than 15 percent among those aged 15-49, with some age groups being particularly affected. Almost one-in-three women aged 25-29, and over a quarter of men aged 30-34, are living with HIV. The national average of all persons is around 10%.
Think about that.
Now link the epidemic to the living conditions in the shantytowns and you start to get a picture of the undercurrents here in ZA. As I have said all along this is a hard place to get a handle on.
The garden also has a brail trail that runs through the woods past wild almond trees and through ferns and berry bushes. There are a series of ropes running at waist height that you hold on to as you walk with closed eyes to get an idea what it is like to be blind. For those that actually are blind they have signs in brail to help guide and fill in what is around various resting spots. Adele takes it all very seriously and does a great job navigating her way around.
At the very top of the hill we branch off on the “Skeleton Canyon” trail looking for “bamboos.” It is a fun hike down on a pretty stretch of single track. Luckily all the “bamboos” leave us alone. Late in the afternoon we stop off for a hot chocolate and a cookie at the guesthouse before heading back home.
We were all very excited to be part of the “Scuarium” Halloween festival at the Cape Town Aquarium. The kids get all dressed up: Adele in her belly-dancing outfit from Turkey and Vinny in his Stars and Stripe American Flag pajamas. However, when we get there we discover they sold out online and refuse to let us in.
It is like a bad dream as a parent. We stand there with two crying kids, clearly crushed they could not trick or treat and missing one of the few things that remind them of home, talking to the “director” all of about nineteen who could care a less about any of it and is willing to do absolutely zippo for the traveling family far from home.
The Cape Town tourist board should be ashamed. I can tell you this: the one thing the kids will definitely remember is NOT being able to trick or treat at the Aquarium in Cape Town. How infuriating to turn away an eight and four year old, both so full of hope and wonder.
We drive back to the house, rent a movie, burn some popcorn and have a family movie night instead. If only we had not picked Toy Story 3, its terrible, we turn it off half way though and call it a night.
Day One Hundred and Thirty Six October 31st
We are up to a beautiful morning of bright sunshine and clear skies. It is Halloween! And after last night we are even more determined to find some trick or treating.
Cape town has pretty much everything you could want as a traveling family: the options are endless. Today we are heading off to the Indian Ocean to see a small fishing village and catch a Halloween parade we found in one of the “Things to do in Cape Town with kids” magazines.
The coastline on this side of the peninsula is beautiful. The beaches are built for surfing with endless swells and wind swept shorelines. I can only imagine a hot summer day when the place must be packed with people. Or maybe not. We are finding that South Africa has plenty of room for all.
Lunch is in the town of Kalk Bay, a small single lane town with a jetty shielding a fleet of fishing boats. Our restaurant, Live Bait, sits on rocks so close to the ocean that waves crash into the windows at high tide. It’s excellent, fish so fresh it comes off the boats and straight into the kitchen.
For those that remember winding away a few happy hours at Live Bait in NYC I assure you this was an entirely different experience. Though if they added frozen margaritas to the drink menu the place would really rock.
Vince has been wearing his Spiderman pajamas all day in anticipation of the Halloween parade. Adele has her belly-dancing outfit from Istanbul all ready to go as well in the event it all works out this time. Muzenburg won’t know what hit them! The Americans are coming, and we own Halloween!
We pull up to a nondescript building off the main road running through town. We could not find the road we are looking for so after several attempts I finally stop and asked for directions. “Just passed the robot down there you turn right,” she says. Robot? “Yes, the robot, go there to the bot and turn right and then right again after the tracks.” Sorry, are you making fun of me? She smiles and waves. A robot, as it happens to be, is a traffic light. Who knew?
The gymnasium is crowded when we get there and it gets more so over the next half hour. It seems the entire town is here. By the time we start out on the parade there must be hundred people.
It is all very bizarre. There seems to be a leader of sorts, a big guy in a leather jacket and a mesh halter-top with a huge beer belly hanging out. He is pierced pretty much everywhere. Then there are a bunch of others wandering along, some may be in costume but then again maybe not. It is like one of those very uncomfortable dreams where everything is off kilter.
Adele notices that the kids here are “all dressed as scary things.” Back home they are “nice and go as princesses and fairies, good things.” Here they are all in black and wearing something out of a horror movie. There are a number of scary witches, people with various wounds, bleeding from various places. One guy has an ax in his head with fake blood everywhere (he is one of the fathers), a girl has a big safety pin through her nose with fake blood on all sides. It is all very dark and gruesome. Both of our kids looked concerned.
In the end they each manage to get a few treats so all is right with the world. After a long day, we eat our few pieces of candy on the ride home, talk about the differences between here and the States, and wonder if anyone filled in for the annual Halloween party we through each year. We love that party: it is one of our favorite times and highlights of the year.
It has been a good day but a hard one as well. Holidays away form home are tough. We all fall off to sleep a bit homesick, missing a normal life with friends around to share in the times we have together.
Day On Hundred and Thirty Six November 1st
The weatherman doesn’t lie here in Cape Town and today, as predicted, is our best beach day yet. We wake to a brilliant, sunny, cloudless sky.
After an hour or so of school we are ready to go back to Boulder beach and swim with the penguins! It is unbelievably cool. The beach is formed from giant boulders that are stacked upon one another and spread out along the coast. They create this natural cove, protected from the winds and high surf.
We spend all day here lounging around, swimming in the Indian Ocean, building sandcastles and watching penguins. They have a restaurant with excellent food for lunch and a small store where we buy assorted penguin paraphernalia.
It is a long day in the sun and worth every minute. We wind down back at home with Teri at a yoga class, the kids and I cooking dinner and everyone in bed for and early night.
Swimming with penguins! Can you imagine?
Day One Hundred and Thirty Seven November 2nd.
All good things much come to an end. Teri announces at breakfast that today is our last day in Cape Town. We planned to spend one more day but a room cleared up the road in one of the B&Bs she has targeted and we are out of here. However, there is much to do before we bid our farewells.
First off we have a bunch of logistics. We head to the crafts mart for some gift shopping which leads to the need to find shipping back to the States. I also need to stop by the rental car place to sort out billing issues and extend the rental for another week. On top of that we are waiting on a fed-x package from home that is to arrive at the place we already checked out of and we need to squeeze in a trip to Robben Island to do the whole Mandela thing. That coupled with a two-hour drive and the stress levels crank up a bit.
The trip to Robben Island takes us by surprise. You start by boarding a boat and ferrying across the bay. The waves are bigger than you think they are going to be and the boat rocks for most of the crossing. It’s a half hour ride to freedom or captivity depending on the direction you are headed. When we arrive at the port there are big pictures of prisoners being unloaded and their guards watching over them. When we bought the tickets we sort of forgot that we were going to a prison. It brings up a lot of eight-year-old questions.
Our guide is an ex-political prisoner held here in the mid-90s. It is strange to walk through the halls of the prison and hear him say, “this is where we were kept” or “this is where we were beaten.” He decided that the peaceful resistance targeted against the way public education was being taught to blacks was taking too much time to foster change so he skipped across the border with the ANC and trained as a militant leader. Upon return, and getting into some trouble I assume, he was picked up and sent here after being held for six months in detention. The six months did not sound pretty.
It is odd to stand here with him now after all he went through. He does seems at ease and content with his current lot in life. It is however hard to place him in the context of the Mandela story. Is a militant political prisoner, one trained in violent tactics, a martyr or a criminal? It’s a struggle to sort it all out.
The prisoners were the ones that rallied to turn the island into a national park so I guess in many ways the place is testament to the struggle for freedom. The fact that it held the leaders of the resistance movement here, pretty much in isolation, for such long sentences, strikes a note in all of us. Mandela was here for eighteen years then another seven on the mainland. That is a long, long time.
By later afternoon we are camped out in a Thai restaurant across from the lobby of the cottage place (they closed at 5p) waiting for the FedEx guy. Do not believe the FedEx ads you see on TV. Their service overseas is terrible. I mean really, really bad. They don’t show.
We track them down by begging our way on to the restaurant’s wifi system (our blackberry battery died) and finding them via Skype. Turns out they have our package at the airport, sounds simple enough, so we head off to pick it up.
Cargo at the Cape Town airport is not easy to find. We wander aimlessly for an hour or so before we bump into the place by chance. God does watch out for fools and drunks. By 7p we are on our way.
Our next stop is another home stay in Franschhoek, a pretty little town in the heart of South African wine country. I am sure the drive was beautiful. Just not at night with three other tired and weary passengers.
The house is well worth the early move. This self-catering travel really works well if you hit it right. You end up with a house for the price of a mid-range hotel. This one sites just off the main street, has three bedrooms, a great kitchen and CNBC on the cable system. What more can you ask for?
Day One Hundred and Thirty Eight November 3rd
It is so nice to wake up after a good nights sleep in clean crisp sheets. These are the things you miss the most while on the road. So far in South Africa sheets seem to be a priority. I guess good Egyptian cotton and cheap labor make all the difference.
In the light of day our house is even better than we expected. They have a large farm table perfect for school and an Internet Café around the corner. I know, I can see the emails already, by way of defending the use of the “public Internet” we have been off the grid and need to get back on to secure reservations for the next few nights. The Internet Café is a necessity. We pray they do not hack into our Google accounts.
The boxes still need mailing. I venture to the post office to try and send them back home. The long poster size tube with four wooden men goes off with out a hitch. The big box of stuff is another story. They have two classes of mail, the first a slow boat that may or may not get there. This one cost a few bucks. The second is the one they tell you will get there but it costs a bit more. Teri and the kids are back home and I can’t remember what is in the box and I forget if it has to get home or not. A decision has to be made. I opt for the “this one will get there” service and walk out two hundred dollars poorer. I am still not sure how it happened.
By mid-day we have planned and reserved the camps in Kruger, picked up cheap tickets for Jo’Berg and rented a four-wheel drive to chase lions, all in all a productive couple of hours.
We need to split up so I can focus on some CallMeCuff logistics back home and write up a complaint against the Cooking Vacations people that took advantage of us (and all of our money) back in Tuscany. When we do Teri and the kids go to a gator farm to check out the crocs.
There is much excitement when they return. The gator farm sounds like it was some sort of breading place for gator meat, a local favorite around here. Regardless, the kids had a blast and “culling” the gators “at a certain size and age” can be easily explained away. Sort of.
This was Teri’s first drive since the Fiat 500 way, way back in Edam. With the steering wheel being on the “wrong” side of the car and all I ask how it went. Everyone bursts out at once. Apparently the hubcaps are in the front seat because of the “rock” or maybe a “bump” or perhaps a “hole”. Nothing to worry about they all say. Just going a bit fast over a bump. When I go out to put the hubcaps back on they don’t fit because the rims are bent on both tires on the drivers side.
For some context, another reason I needed to see the car rental people was to review the American Express insurance policy to avoid paying the supplement rates they are convinced they need to charge me. I have been dealing with Amex and the Europcar folks for the better part of two weeks and final got it sorted out today. I cancelled it. Just before the hubcaps came home in the trunk. We can’t get a break. Maybe they won’t notice. Teri is sure that the hubs were bent before we left. I tie them on with the kids string and hope for the best.
It is Election Day back home. We have no idea what is going on and honestly don’t really mind. My Google headlines fill me in on the important stuff like we failed to legalize marijuana in California. Other than that it seems to be business as usual. Someone won and another lost. No one is working. House prices are plunging and the mood is grim. Glad to be here instead of there, we picked a good year to get out of Dodge.
The guy that rents the house we are in has a sitter service (actually it turns out our sitter works as his house cleaner) and we have booked Julie for a few hours so Teri and I can grab dinner. She looks a bit shell shocked when we leave but she has a few of her own so it all works out.
Dinner is a few blocks away at a nice place with average food and great wines. None of the details matter, a nice dinner with just the two of us is priceless these days.
Day One Hundred and Thirty Nine November 4th
It poured late last night and the roof of the house is corrugated steel. I ended up sleeping downstairs in the back room (too many people in one bedroom) but Teri and the kids took the storm full on. It raged and was unbelievable loud. Somehow, Vince and Adele slept through it all.
We skip school today and instead catch a quick breakfast and start one of our longest driving days yet. Today we are on The Garden Route to The Crags, a seaside resort near Plettenberg Bay up the coast almost 500K.
The drive is uneventful. It takes forever but for the most part it is a blur, kilometers slide on by. The countryside here is some of the most beautiful we have seen anywhere. Farmland stretches for miles, blue herons stand in freshly cut fields, sheep and cattle graze about. Honestly, it doesn’t look real. It’s like a landscape captured in heavy oils by one of the Masters. If you saw it hanging in the MET or the Louvre you would think it imagined.
By the time we get to Hog Hollow, an Inn at the end of a long narrow road, it is half past six and we have been driving all day. Everyone is exhausted.
Sometimes in life you wonder why thing happen the way they do. You get hit with the unexpected and it lifts you up. The sense of surprise and wonder sort of shock and startle you. This is what happens when we check in.
Let me first say that we booked a “family room”. Or at least we booked a room suitable for a family.
When the check in guy comes out to get in our car to drive to our room we all sort of grumble that we would like to be close to the main house with the pool. The guy just smiles and says not to worry we are close. We leave the main property and head about two hundred meters down the road.
“Turn in your driveway” he says. Did he way our driveway? The house is probably the closest we have come to a dream home. It’s bigger than our place back home. It has a “family room” complete with pool/ping pong table, beanbag chairs and dragon kites. There are two rooms and baths upstairs one for each kid.
The main room has a wall of folding sliders that open on to a deck that overlooks the jungle. There is a private infinite pool. The kitchen is fully stocked. There are two or three fireplaces. I could go one forever. I actually say to the guy, “Is this all for us or are we sharing?” He just smiles.
Somehow we must be on a list. The one they take out for road weary travelers in search of some down time and relaxation. The one that says these people need some space, some room to spread out a bit. It is reserved for the ones living together every minute, twenty four seven, for one hundred and thirty nine days. I have no idea how we got on it but I pray we never drop off.
Later that evening while we stand on the deck we can hear the voices of a local gospel choir bounce off the treetops. They come over to the lodge to share traditional African folks songs. Now I truly understand the inspiration for Paul Simon’s Graceland. Empty as a pocket with nothing to lose.
Day One Hundred and Forty November 5th
It’s raining. Not that we care. We don’t plan on leaving the house. Actually we do try and see a Cheetah Reserves but it’s raining too hard so we pick up some supplies and retreat back home. The cats can wait.
VCC: There are flamangos there?
DAD: Mingos, fla- mingos Vince
VCC: No dad, it’s mangos, fla – mangos, the birds
It is a prefect day to simply sit in front of a roaring fire.
For dinner they have arranged a sitter so we can have adult conversation at the main house. How nice it is to be out and about with others without distraction. This is the first time in a long, long time.
As luck would have it I find a seat next to an older lady from Holland that I cannot understand. I struggle to pull conversation out of her. Teri gets to sit next to a guy who is in pharmaceutical sales in the UK and is starting a business to coach the mental side of golf. Everything happens for a reason.
On my end of the table I notice that some of the men describe themselves as “working for and American company” like it is a badge of honor in some way. They don’t discuss professions and skirt around which American companies but you get the sense they are all sizing each other up. I freak them out and totally confuse them.
Teri’s guy is into some organic, linguistic, life balance program something or another. He describes it as a transforming personal philosophy or an approach to life that changes your entire outlook on things. I am in but I’ll pass on the week long off sites. Been there, done that. Basically all the mumbo jumbo boils down to this: you are the one who decides where to go. The good doctor is always right: sometimes you just need to hear a second opinion. Same bat time, same bat channel.
You can choose to be happy, sad, playful or frustrated. You are in charge not the situation. It strikes a cord.
At this point in the trip we are all getting a bit tired of each other. Vince is constantly asking if we can go home. Adele doesn’t come right out and ask but you can tell she is thinking it. The contact with the kid’s friends back home is really minimal and they are feeling a true sense of loss: one we cannot replace.
You would think that they would meet other kids as we travel but it’s not like that, only an occasional playmate at some random pool. We are not in one place long enough to truly settle in so we have not met many others traveling with kids thus far. Ours are feeling very much isolated and alone. The same goes for Teri and I. I hope it all changes with the six months in NZ. As a parent and a participant you feel the pain.
Hang ups and bangs ups do happen to us.