I took some action shots of the traffic from the bus window

I took some action shots of the traffic from the bus window


Delhi

One of the assignments for my class is to write a few blog posts.  These are more formal for my class, but they’re here if you are interested :)

Greetings from Delhi, India!  Upon my arrival to the subcontinent, I expected to be welcomed with warm weather.  However, Thursday was the coldest day in Delhi in 44 years, since the city began keeping records in 1969.  The high temperature was 49.64°F.  To combat the cold, people build small fires on the side of roads, burning whatever refuse they can find nearby.  The city is enveloped by smoky smog from both the fires and pollution from motor vehicles. 

The fog is just one element of the chaotic culture that is found here.  It is truly a diverse city as people in Western apparel and saris pass each other on the street, a slum lies across the road from an upscale shopping mall, ancient palaces and tombs are found near office buildings, and traffic moves very haphazardly.  We have travelled all around the city to visit different companies and historical sites, and have had lots of opportunity to see the city and to people watch from our tour bus.  The best part of the bus is that its windows are not tinted so passersby notice the large vehicle full of primarily white American students and often wave to us.  Windows are not tinted as a safety precaution so anything happening on a bus can be seen by the surrounding traffic and pedestrians. 

 India has the most chaotic roads I have ever been on.  I would require a good sum of money to risk driving on the roads here.   Though only 5% of the population owns cars, there are many vehicles on the road, especially in the evenings.  Cars, trucks, and buses are accompanied by many motorbikes, auto rickshaws, and other small trucks that weave between the larger vehicles.  Though lines are painted on the roads, as they are in the U.S., they are largely disregarded by motorists.  Thus, drivers honk their horns frequently to communicate with each other.  All of the perceived chaos on the roads would logically lead to many collisions, but I have yet to see any crashes.  This can mostly likely be attributed to the fact that vehicles are usually moving at relatively slow speeds.  There seem to be efforts to curb these driving habits as I have seen billboards with the slogan “lane driving is sane driving” and many vehicles painted with “no honk” on the back.    

                It is easy to become overwhelmed by all of the traffic, bustle of people, colorful sites, honking, and yelling.  However, I am really enjoying my stay so far.  Time moves in a different way in India from the U.S.  The concern given to it reminds me greatly of Africa as people are rarely in a hurry and not as worried about completing a task efficiently and quickly as just finishing it when they see fit.  Living in this type of world is a good experience for any Westerner as it forces you to slow down and lets you take in some of the world surrounding you.  Though we once had to sit at an intersection that lacked a stoplight for about 30 minutes because the police directing traffic were taking a tea break, the fluidity of Indian time has primarily benefited us.  Many of the people we have visited at companies, despite their myriad of responsibilities, have given us hours of their time to talk about the work they do and answer all of our questions.  An architect we met with, Goonmeet Chauhan, spent all day with us talking about the mall he designed, giving us a tour, eating lunch with us, and chatting with us about India.  In sum, India is an incredible place with inspiring people.  Though, as Westerners, it is easy to say how a developing country should become more like us, the modern world; the culture here can inform and teach us even more about our own culture and the way we see things than we can teach it.


Sorry this is over somebody’s shoulder, but this should give you an idea of traditional Zulu dance.  People wanted us to try and do the kicks haha.  I was wearing jeans so I declined, not that I could have done it anyway.


iXopo

   Two weekends ago was Freedom Day and Workers Day, and I had a long weekend.  Freedom day commemorates the first democratic elections in South Africa and Workers Day, from what I gathered, is like Labor Day in the States.  A group of us international students went to a rural village outside of iXopo (you pronounce the “x” with a click).  Two of our South African friends set up accommodation for us and brought us there.  

   The first day we drove out to a large pond/lake and had a braai (grilled out) next to the water.  South Africans love their braais.  It is their version of the picnic.  It works for me though— I’d rather have a steak than a sandwich any day.  We then went to a different pond to fish.  Nothing was really biting though so we only stayed for a bit then drove on to the home we were staying.
   We stayed with a lady that had two small children.  The home had two bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen.  There was no running water in the house, but up the hill a bit was a water spicket.  The bathroom was outside.  It was basically a hole in the ground.  If you went to Peru with me, it was exactly like the bathrooms they had out in the colonias.
  
   We got up the next morning, and we were taken to a Zulu farm.  The Zulu people are known for their cows and farming.  I got to milk a cow and see how they yoked the cows together to plow a field.  Everything is done without modern farming equipment (ie. tractors).  In the afternoon we went to a Zulu wedding ceremony.  There are several ceremony before you actually get married, and this one was for the paying of the labola.  The labola is the payment the groom’s family makes to the bride’s family.  A “better” bride (ie. educated, virgin, etc.) fetches a higher price.  It is traditionally paid in cows as that is where wealth in held in the Zulu community.  However, this ceremony had the family parade in carrying a sorts of other things: linens, blankets, rice, maize meal, and more.  Conveniently there was also a 21st birthday celebration for two of the girls in the family the same day.  21 is the big age in South Africa and people celebrate it like we would celebrate a 16th birthday in the States.  They put a skin over each girls shoulders and had each of them drink from a gall bladder.  The bride and 21 year olds all had rings on their heads with safety pins attached.  After each of these ceremonies, the families gathered in a huge circle, and people put money on the girls’ heads and there was lots of dancing. 
   
   After a few hours we were planning to leave, but one of the heads of the family came over to us and invited us to eat with his family.  They had a big tent with round tables and a long table in the front.  It was like a wedding reception.  We were seated at the head table and were served our dinners first.  People were taking pictures of us.  It was slightly embarrassing, really, but I was really surprised by their wonderful hospitality even though they didn’t know us.  We had finger foods when we sat down, a curry with the butternut squash, beets, rice, and samp (a traditional bean dish) on the side for our main dish; ice cream and custard for dessert, and beer and cider for the party afterward.  We stuck around and danced a bit after dinner.  The DJ was trying to accommodate us, I think, and played some LMFAO haha. 
  So it was a good time, and I felt very welcomed by everyone we met.  We left Friday morning and came back Sunday morning, which doesn’t seem like a long time.  However, I didn’t get to take bathe or wash my hands over this period of time so I was ready to get home and hop in the shower.  The trip was awesome, and I loved seeing what people in the rural area lived like.       

PheZulu

I put pictures a few weeks ago from Phezulu (means something like “high place” in Zulu). I went with Interstudy, so it was another nice trip. Phezulu is a small game park with a crocodile and snake park as well as Zulu cultural shows. The park is located about 30 minutes away from Maritzburg and is in the Valley of a Thousand Hills. Phezulu is situated on top of a hill with awesome views of the rolling hills around it.

After we had breakfast there, we watched a Zulu show. The people in the show wore traditional clothes and acted out a Zulu wedding with lots of dancing. We went to the snake and croc park following the show. There were probably 25 or so crocs there in a few different enclosures. We saw them in the afternoon, so they were pretty lethargic and were lying in the sun. If you touched them, they would snap at you, though. Our guide had a pole that he used to get them to move around. I got to hold a big python in the snake section. It weighed 25kg (55lbs). As I have said on Facebook, the snake was nonvenomous, so it was safe :)

We went on a game drive afterwards and saw zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, etc. I’ve seen so much game now that this drive seemed pretty normal. The two trucks they had for game drives were named Timone and Pumba. The cool thing about this game reserve is that people live on part of it. They have a small section of nice houses where they animals are allowed to roam around. Imagine having a zebra chilling in your backyard. Pretty cool. We had a big lunch after the drive. The park offers a “Fear Factor Challenge” where you can eat your lunch in one of the crocodile cages. I thought they were just kidding around, but next thing we knew, we were eating next to crocs. Our guide has his pole to keep them at bay, but they really didn’t bother us. I wasn’t scared anyway. Nothing really compares to bungee jumping.



She’s from SA!  Can’t. Stop. Listening.


Cape Town

I was glad we had stopped along the way to Cape Town instead of going directly there for the week because I loved Plett and Mossel Bay.  We stayed on Long Street which is the center of Cape Town nightlife.  Right down the street from us was a bar that had 10 rand ($1.25) shots so we went there every night before checking out the other bars and clubs.  They had your normal liquor shots and then fun ones with whipped cream, too.

 

Cape Town reminded me of an American or European city- it didn’t feel like Africa at all to me.  The streets were clean, and we could walk around at night!  There were tons of international people there.  Everybody I met seemed to be foreign.  I even met people that spoke Spanish!  I was so excited.

 

While we were in Cape Town, we went to the V&A Harbor where there is a bunch of touristy shopping.  The day we went, it was beautiful outside so we have fun walking around.  We saw the penguins on Boulder Beach the following day.  The beach is the biggest colony of African penguins.  They were really cute, and it was crazy how many of them there were— they covered the whole beach.  We rode the train from the city center to Simon’s Town to see the penguins.  The tracks were along the ocean the whole way, and I had to stick my head out of the window because I wanted to see everything we were passing! 

Our third day we were to the lovely, Stellenbosch— one of the most famous wine districts in South Africa.  South Africa produces all types of wine, but their signature variety is Pinotage, a red wine.  I found a tour that we signed up for, and we were brought to two wineries to do tastings and then we got to look around the town square of Stellenbosch for a bit.  We got to try both red and white wines and decide which ones we liked.  The red wines tasted like different kinds of wood to me, so I preferred the sweet white varieties.  Obviously, I have very sophisticated taste.  

Our final day we went to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent most of his time in prison.  We left from the V&A Harbor and sailed about 30 minutes out to the island.  Unfortunately, the water was really rough and a lot of people got sick.  I was able to keep myself together, but wasn’t too thrilled about getting back on the boat to go back later.  We took a tour of the island via bus and saw all the sites and major buildings.  We then went into the maximum security prison and went on a short tour with our guide who had actually stayed at the prison.  The conditions were pretty rough as prisoners were only given a mat to sleep on and minimal food.  People were crowded into dormitories with open windows even in winter.  Black and Colored prisoners were given different meals and wore different clothing.  Prisoners were slaves, essentially, as they were forced to work in quarries on the island during the day.  At the end of the tour, our guide explained that the ex-political prisoners and white guards that used to work in the prison (those currently residing on the island) are all friends now.

After Robben Island, we took a cab to the airport so we could fly home.  It was a great trip and a nice break from classes!  I actually did miss Maritzburg a bit because all of the places we went lacked the “African vibe” that is very prominent in KwaZulu-Natal.  Lastly, as a mentioned, you can backpack through South Africa!  There are tons of hostels and, compared to backpacking Europe, it is very affordable!  So if you like doing things outside, seeing animals, or doing extreme sports, South Africa is definitely the place to be!  I want everyone to come here because it is awesome!


Mossel Bay


This trip was so epic that I need several posts to cover it all!  After bungee jumping in Plett we drove over to Mossel Bay.  It was about 3 hours away, and it was SO pretty driving along there.  It is called the Garden Route and you are along the ocean the whole time!  I wanted to stop in every town we went through!  The first day we were there we hiked around The Point where the lighthouse was.  There were ocean cliffs, and the water was so pretty.  


Mossel Bay is famous for its shark diving so that is why we stopped there.  I was so excited to get in the water and have sharks bumping into the cage trying to take off one of my limbs.  Just kidding?  We woke up on Wednesday morning and went to the shark people’s office.  They had a nice breakfast for us and they were showing Discovery Channel documentaries on sharks.  These were not particularly comforting as they documented people being eaten or injured by sharks.  We had a safety briefing and the crew informed us that the sharks had been hit and miss lately.  We were told not to get our hopes up since they hadn’t seen any sharks for a few days.

The group boarded the boat to go to Seal Island- an island covered in seals, of course, where the sharks hunt.  Pieces of meat were put in the water to attract the sharks and chum—watered-down fish guts— was poured into the water around the boat.  We were to sit and wait until the sharks came.  And sit and wait we did—for four hours.  And there were no sharks :(  We met some other people on the boat that were nice, and I talked to the leader of the journey.  He said they saw sharks everyday last year, but were having a streak of bad luck since a week or two before our trip.  Great white sharks are migratory so a small group of them hunt somewhere for a few weeks, then they move on and are replaced by a new group.  So basically all we saw was Seal Island and we got some food.  
I have a voucher to go back if anyone wants to accompany me!  I could even get you a discounted ticket!  I am free in mid- June :)
After our shark diving attempt we got on the Baz Bus in the afternoon to drive to Cape Town!    

More South African music!  This one is in Afrikaans and is the only Afrikaans song I have heard more than once— they play it at a club we go to a lot.  People really like this song, but no one actually speaks Afrikaans in KwaZulu-Natal.  This is probably for the best because I can only handle one foreign language at a time.  I have learned how to greet people in Zulu, and that’s as far as I have gotten.