I fear the worst has happened. As we sit here bunkering off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, with the entire skyline in view, I cannot begin to summon up my most exciting and memorable experiences into a simple Word document. I am accustomed to and comfortable with the unfathomable, the exotic, the unique lifestyle I have developed in the past thirty-three days. Maybe it is because the fear for my own life was not a dominant emotion during this port, as it was in sunny, dangerous Brazil. Through this port, I knew the spoken language and spent a good time isolated and guarded by mall security and rangers on a safari. Upon my first step off the gangway, I celebrated my first moments on a new continent and ran to make the most of the first day. Camera poised and eyes engaged, I waltzed down Long Street, only after many long, unwanted delays from the boys gawking at every American store we passed.
The unimaginable occurred as we walked down the busiest street in Cape Town, I had money…in my pocket. No money belt here! I was smooth sailing, shopping without a care, talking to the taxi drivers about things to do, life was great. I'm setting myself up for a harsh downfall with this build-up, but one needn't worry, I'm still alive.
After my friends left on a Kruger safari, I wandered without a destination throughout a very wet Cape Town with a calling card and umbrella in hand. Never have I been alone on the opposite edge of the Earth and met up with an old high school and college friend…until now. Julie and I found each other at the wharf, enjoyed some leisurely walking, shopping and some intense, gluttonous activity.
After delighting the spirit of Sir Fidel, I flew across the nation to visit his relatives, the wild lions of the African bush, only to find that I didn't enter the Manyeleti Game Reserve so much as a Pottery Barn catalog. Waterfall showerheads and plush down comforters hardly screamed "safari" to me, although my limited knowledge of safari norms comes from childhood viewings of the Lion King. Aside from the rangers and reserve staff, we were the only human beings inhabiting the reserve those few days, but sadly, the number of different animal species I spotted in the wild dwarfed the number of people in my group with whom I enjoyed conversing.
Seated atop an open 4x4 land rover, I positioned myself near the ranger, the tracker, and the rifle, in case there were things to be learned or approaching predators to be shot. I didn't want to be slipped off the back seat by a mischievous baboon or an elephant momentarily turned carnivore.
The African bush presented a surprise to all of us expecting rolling grasslands and Bilbao trees decorating the sunrise landscape. I had my eyes peeled as if I could track those clever animals myself, trying to peer through the thick shrubbery for a glimpse of a zebra stripe. Even if I was looking in the direction of a herd of wildebeest, it was only after the tracker, seated on the hood of the vehicle, spotted them from a mile away, redirected our route to an off road path closer by, and situated us within a few yards of the creatures that I could actually notice their presence among us.
The most impressive spotting occurred in the black of night, when the tracker raised his hand, screeched our progress to a halt, and walked halfway into the bush only to emerge with a five inch chameleon he found in a tree. After we snapped numerous photographs of his findings, he placed the little amphibian back on its territorial branch, walking through Black Mamba infested grasslands in the process.
Five game drives, each including a break for tea or cocktails, resulted in an extensive animal sighting list: a pride of lions, hippos, a massive herd of buffalo, hyenas, a Black Mamba, a Pufferhead, wildebeest, zebras, elephants, leopard, giraffes, owls, impala, kudus, water buck, crocodile, chameleon, mongoose, and baboons. Our only viewings of ostrich and springbok, South Africa's national symbol, were in the form of filets, finely sliced and garnished with parsley and sweet potatoes.
One of the most shocking personal revelations I had on this safari was the fact that twelve hours of travel by air and bus to and from the reserve didn't phase me in the least bit. When an afternoon nap at sea can be marked in nautical miles, it's actually more shocking to stay put.
As enjoyable as it was to experience an African safari with some of the most knowledgeable rangers on the continent, I counted down the hours until my social circle reunited. Upon returning to my shipboard cabin, I learned a valuable lesson about eating before taking malaria medicine, but no amount of unpleasant gastro-intestinal activity can keep me from living my South African days to their fullest.
The next morning sped toward us in what felt like minutes, and we arrived at the Clocktower Mall just in time for a township visit. Entrepreneurs decorated the paved streets of the Langa township selling barbequed sheep's head, used dress pants, and assorted homemade goods off the bordering fences and poorly constructed booths. I kept my camera rested in hand to minimize my game drive tendencies because even though I was, once again, invading a new community, I was there to experience first-hand instead of just observing the oldest tribe of people in human history, the Xhosa.
A woman lovingly entitled "Mums" invited us into her two room home where she houses a family of six and her own jewelry business. As she showed us her scrapbook and explained the Xhosa rituals, we attempted to mimic her spoken clicks that seemed to flow off her tongue much easier than ours. Hugs, pictures and jewelry purchases brought a close to our home visit as we began our walking tour of the Langa township.
We could sense a definite feeling of community among neighbors that we agreed was lacking in America. Robb and I found ourselves willing and eager to live in these conditions if it was possible to experience their simple and proud lifestyle. While walking through a butcher shop/smokehouse/bar/living room/convenience store, Alexis and I could have sworn we were walking through a fraternity house and nearly felt comfortable enough to plop on a nearby emerald couch.
Odd sights of stylish Mercedes driving by roadside sheep's head BBQs and sounds of American house music blaring from twenty square foot shacks were just a few of the surprises on our way.
A large barbed wire fence came into view and soon a stampede of preschool children ran to the four American kids approaching their gate. One child appeared uninterested as he rolled a wheel about the playground, but the remaining one hundred forty-nine eager students ran towards us as soon as Robb's stickers emerged from our pockets. Even though there was a horrendous language barrier between us and the children, they understood what our cameras were doing and that tens of stickers could cling to the face with a simple press of the thumb. Those kids marked a highlight from Cape Town for all of us.
We capped the Cape Town experience off with dinner on the wharf, a couple of beers, and a last sunset that silhouetted our ship to an orange sky. And with a final toast of our massive mugs, our foursome made a vow that Cape Town would see us again, united and eager to share another amazing time together, and that time will be the 2010 FIFA World Cup.