Welcome to the blog site for our Elmira College travel class to South Africa. We will update this blog regularly with posts about our travels and experiences. We'll upload photos when we have the chance. Check back regularly to follow our adventures!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Port Elizabeth

We left lovely Graskop early this morning, although we have been up so early these past days in Kruger Park that a 6:00 AM wake-up call felt like sleeping in! We spent the first part of the day in transit, leaving northern South Africa, flying to Johannesburg, and then flying out to the east coast, to Port Elizabeth. This city is a charming small city on the shore of the Indian Ocean, and the start of the so-called Garden Route. We had some free time after we checked into our hotel, which people have been using to do laundry, go to the ATM, check out the South African McDonald's, and get some dinner. Some students are going out tonight, while others are sticking close to the hotel to play pool or hang out.

The unfortunate thing is: it's raining. Not just a little bit of rain, but a heavy and steady windy downpour. Some of us went to find some dinner, and in a 20 minute walk, we were complete drenched. So we are in this charming place, with a bit of free time, and there is a very strong disincentive to go out and explore. Such a shame.

It's even more of a shame that rain is forecast for the next few days, as we head off to the last remaining indigenous forest in South Africa, Tsitsikamma Park. We are spending a couple of days in Tsitsikamma to get the chance to experience this amazing forest, and we plan to go treetop gliding on Monday. Some of the students are planning on going bungy jumping from the world's highest jumping point. And it's supposed to be raining the whole time!

Hopefully, all will be well and we'll still have plenty of adventures in Tsitsikamma. We don't know if we will have internet there, so if we don't post updates for a while, don't be worried.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Panoramic Views

After we left Kruger Park this morning, we headed out the Phalaborwa Gate about 2/3 of the way down the park to the West. This gate put us out into the region that is often called the Panorama Route. The scenery here is incredibly beautiful, in part because of the Drakensberg Mountains, and in part because of all the river canyons. It is right in this area that the continental divide occurs, and we can actually see the rift as Africa is splitting apart. What? Yes, there is a giant tectonic fracture zone going down the east side of the entire continent of Africa, where the earth is grinding together as the continent slowly crashes and splits. In the Panorama area, we can see that there is almost a mile difference in height between the eastern part of South Africa and the western part. There is literally a giant cliff drop-off. We stopped to take some photographs and it feels like actually being as high up as the clouds, and we could feel the moisture in the air, like we were breathing clouds as well. It's very dramatic.

We also got to see the Blythe River Canyon, which, while smaller, reminded many of us of the Grand Canyon. The river has worn away layer after layer of rock, revealing a huge open canyon with painted layers on down the sides. We stopped to see a special rock formation called The Three Rondevals, which are rocks shaped like giant roundhouses. The view is amazing!

In addition, we had the chance to see the amazing river rock formations called Bourke's Luck Potholes. These are not actually potholes, but rather huge round holes in a river bottom as well as down the sides of the river canyon. The river has worn a deep and narrow groove into the earth (100 feet straight down but only about 30 feet across). But stones large and small were caught in the river current and couldn't move out of the narrow canyon, and acted as drills, making some very deep and round holes in the rock. The bridges crossing the gorge are narrow and offer some amazing views. We could also see a below-ground waterfall, which was fascinating. We got to walk all around the site and take some really fabulous photographs.

It is easy to get the sense of the power of nature in this area of South Africa.

We are now staying overnight in the little town of Graskop, which used to be a frontier town back in the gold rush days. It actually looks a little like an old frontier town in the American west, with low wood buildings and raised sidewalks. Now it is a bit of an arty town, with a number of local artists selling artwork, and lots of beautiful crafts for sale. We arrived just in time for about an hour of sightseeing and shopping, and I believe some lovely gifts are headed home with some of our students.

The highlight of the day, perhaps because we were all so tired from such early safari mornings (4:15 AM starts!), was our happy and delicious dinner at Harrie's Pancakes. This old time dutch pancake house serves only pancakes served the traditional Boer way, thick but with savory or sweet fillings. Somehow this seemed to be the perfect end to this portion of our trip.

Tomorrow, we fly from here to Johannesburg, change planes, and head to Port Elizabeth on the east coast and much more to the south. We'll see the Indian Ocean and be on to the next phase of our adventure...

Kruger Park

Kruger Park is vast, approximately the size of Israel. Named for late nineteenth century president and Boer War hero Paul Kruger, the park was established in 1898 as the Sabi game reserve to protect animals from well-off sport hunters who were in danger of hunting certain species to extinction. The Sabi Reserve was expanded and became what we now know as Kruger National Park in 1926.

We entered the gates of the park in the late morning on Wednesday, 5/4. We proceeded slowly, using our bus as a makeshift safari vehicle until we arrived at our stop for the night, Shingwedzi Camp just prior to 4pm. We just had time to get situated in our rooms before it was time for our game drives and bush walks. Because we are a relatively large group, we were split into three groups, the intention being to allow each member of our group the opportunity for a game drive an a bush walk.

These are two very different experiences. Participants in a game drive find themselves in back of an open-air safari vehicle and proceed to spend the next 2 1/2-3 hours slowly traveling the roads of the park in search of wildlife. The highlight of the first night's drive was surely a group of hyenas, one of which decided to gnaw on the tire of the safari vehicle! The next morning, groups set out again, this time at 4:30am (this was a brutal wake-up time for many of us, some of us more than others.) It gets quite cold in these open-air vehicles, especially before the sunrise, so much of our energy was spent trying to keep warm. Luckily, the trucks are outfitted with plenty of blankets just for this purpose, so we were able to concentrate on game viewing (as long as our eyes didn't get too heavy, of course.) Highlights of this drive included baboons and two female hyenas with two babies, again right by the roadside (but no tire-gnawing this time, thankfully).

Bush walks are very different, as one might imagine. While participants in game drives typically see more animals, walkers are able to experience the bush in a way that simply isn't possible if one simply drives through it. Each bush walk is led by two experienced guides armed with rifles, to be used on animals only as a last resort (I'm happy to report that none of the guides had to resort to the use of these weapons on our walk; they are an important safety precaution but rarely used). These expert guides are able to interpret the bush for the walkers, showing them things such as the bones of a snake or elephant dung. On of our walks included fresh lion tracks and dung, but no encounters with lions (this was probably for the best, but still...). While one sees more on a drive, walkers are able to experience the bush using their other senses, hearing and smelling the bush in a quiet way that isn't possible from the inside of a diesel safari vehicle, even an open-air one. I think everyone is happy that they were able to experience the bush in both ways.

Thursday morning, we proceeded slowly once again, riding in our bus safari vehicle until we reach our night's lodgings at Oliphants Camp. Animal highlights include hippos, elephant herds (including some really cute babies); birds such as vultures, Bateleur eagles (named for their wobbling flight pattern which resembles a tightrope walker--bateleur is French for tightrope walker) and gorgeous Lilac-Breasted Rollers (see photo above); countless Impalas; giraffes; and crocodiles. Doubtlessly the highlight of our animal sightings occurred Thursday night on our way to our Bush Braai, when we were lucky enough to spy a leopard in the underbrush.

Bush Braais are wonderful. Similar to a barbecue, except that it occurs in the brush under the stars. After a short 10 km drive, we arrived at the site of the braai. The cooks had been busy preparing a delicious feast of lettuce and pasta salads, chicken and steak, grilled vegetable stew, and pap with tomatoes (pap is a maize porridge, similar to polenta), and brownies with custard for dessert.

Participants in the game drive on Friday morning were delighted to find a Kori Bustard. Students had been anxiously seeking out this bird ever since they learned that our guide remembered my name (Corey) by recalling the name of this bird. They were understandably thrilled to have found one; in fact, this was likely more exciting than the rhinos they saw on their ride.

We slowly made our way out of the park and bid farewell to our guide Traugott. He was a great guide, since he had grown up among the Venda and was truly passionate about the people, their heritage, and their land. He has encyclopedic knowledge of the various game in Kruger Park as well, a great guide.

Ceremony at Mukula School

On Wednesday as we were departing Venda and driving to Kruger Park, we stopped by the Mukula School, a rural school outside of Thohoyandou. The money that our students had raised to support students at the school was used to purchase answer books for the twelfth graders to use on the matriculation exams (somewhat similar to New York's Regents Exams). Students must pass these exams in order to be able to be considered for further coursework at college or university. Since Mukula School is in such a rural and impoverished area of South Africa, the pass rate on these tests is very low (approximately 40%).

The answer books will help prepare students to pass these exams. We initially thought we'd just drop the books off, but the principal and assistant principal had assembled all the students and teachers for an official ceremony. In the end, it turned out to be quite moving. Traugott, our guide, greeted those gathered in both Venda and English, stressing the importance of education. Two students from our group volunteered to briefly discuss the vital role that education had played in their lives, and I wrapped things up by again stressing the importance of education.

For an American audience, these would have been mere platitudes, things they'd all heard before ("stay in school," etc.), but for the students gathered there I believe that it struck a much more meaningful chord with them. Part of the reason is that we were perhaps the first outsiders that had visited the school, certainly the first Americans. Even the teachers and administrators at the school seemed to be taken with the fact that we had come to the school to present them with this very practical gift. We hope that we can continue to work with the students of this school and the people of this area in the future.

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The Management

Thursday, May 5, 2011

On Safari!

We are having an amazing time in Kruger Park...but we don't have much internet access. We'll update the blog with our adventures as soon as we can!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

An Amazing Day!

Today has been a truly wonderful experience. We started this morning by going to the market, which was quite large and fabulously interesting. The market place was located inside and around a modern shopping mall, stalls snuggling haphazardly in between chain stores, out in the parking lot, and all along the back and sides of the mall. The inside stores were everything from banks (with long lines), to hair places, to clothing stores. The outside stalls were an interesting mix of food, homemade objects, random household items, and oddities like dried bugs (huge baskets of dried crickets, mopani worms, and termites--you could even get them spiced in different varieties!). We walked through the market to get a sense of everything that was sold there, and the people were so friendly! A number of people just came up to talk with us, shake our hands, ask about the United States, or tell us something about what we were looking at. One guy shook some hands and then said "down with Bin Laden!" Another elderly church man asked Jade for a few American coins for his kids. He seemed thrilled with some pennies and nickles, and she seemed thrilled to give them to him. Brendan got a lot of attention from the local ladies, with them asking him for photographs. One girl actually placed his hand on her waist for a rather saucy photograph!

After the marketplace, we didn't have enough time to walk out to the waterfall, so we went straight to the tiny village where they are trying to build an arts center. The local chief has allowed this village of about 20 houses to build a one-room building that will hopefully someday become a place to showcase the beading work of some of the local women. They use tiny seed beads to make intricate patterns, especially on belts. The local beading pattern of the women from this village is a scene from the Domba dance (the dance that moves through the life cycle of women; girls become women once they learn the whole dance). Our bus couldn't get us all the way into the village because the packed dirt road was so bad. We walked in, and as we got there, we saw that this building they were so proud of was basically a small square (maybe 25 by 25 feet) with a tin roof and windows on each side. There were some additional low brick walls that were being constructed, but this building was in no way nearly finished. (We learning that they are slowly raising money, and that construction has been going on since 1998; they build as they can pay for it).

We had brought paint and other materials, and our plan was to spend the afternoon helping the people work on the building. So that's what we did. It was a warm sunny day, and we were way way way out in the country. The kids of the village came by to watch us (they were much shier than the kids yesterday, although a few of them would smile and wave at us from a distance). We got to work scraping the iron frames on the windows, taping on the glass, and painting the metal a bright happy green. There were a lot of small panes of glass, so this took pretty much the entire afternoon. We also had the chance to help with some brickwork. None of our students had ever done anything like this, so the group that was working on the bricks was actually learning how to do basic concrete mixing and brick laying. First they picked through the pile of bricks looking for the best ones. They chased out the giant spiders and other scary animals (judging from the screams). They stacked the bricks, and mixed up some concrete in a big wheel barrow. Then they started laying the brick, using a level and a lot of concrete to get the walls straight. They actually got a fair amount of brick put down.

We brought our own lunch to the site, but for dinner, the ladies of the little village cooked us their specialties. We were fed stewed chicken in spices, a green vegetable mix that had been stewed and the slightly dried, some very spicy beef, some grits (dry and thick, which they call 'pap') and of course, a big bowl of roasted and spiced mopani worms! These mopani worms aren't actually worms at all; they are caterpillars. And they are big and fat, almost the size of a pinky finger. They are black and grey, and they are eaten whole, complete with heads and legs. A lot of our students sampled them, as did the professors! There was some drama of course, but most of us agreed that they tasted kind of smoky, a bit like chicken, perhaps with a bit of spinach. And they were both crunchy (that exoskeleton!) and soft and chewy. They did not taste bad, but the chewing had a bit of the sensation of crunching on a piece of shrimp with the shell still on it. A bit off-putting indeed, but a real experience!

The most amazing part of the day, however, was the singing and dancing. Betty, the healer and religious leader we met yesterday, came to the arts center and brought her choir with her. They were all teens, both male and female. The girls were wearing long white blue skirts with white trim, white blouses, and a wide blue cloth collar with embroidered designs. Their hair was covered in white scarves. The boys were wearing white lab-style coats with blue embroidery. All of them were wearing heavily decorated sashes with the name of the church on it. They were very serious when they first arrived, and quite shy as well.

First, before the choir sang, it was traditional to let the hosts from the local village welcome us. The children of the village (from about age 2 to age 16 or so), brought out their drums, which they played by sitting on them sideways. As they drummed and sang local songs, each kid took a turn doing the dance that went with each song. They clapped for each other, and we clapped with them. The kids were so enthusiastic, and it was so much fun to see it. Then the choir sang for us, and it was AMAZING! They sang incredibly beautiful songs with multi-part harmony, and the experience was almost trance-inducing in its power. They danced slowly as they sang, and they played a few instruments, including a giant skin drum and some maraca-style shakers that looked like they were made out of cans with handles stuck on. After they were finished singing us a number of songs, some of the local village kids asked if they could dance, and suddenly all of the choir kids and the local kids were singing and dancing spontaneously. Some of us were pulled up to join them (yes, our two guys, Brendan and Rashan were quite popular! Kasey and Megan and Sarah got in there pretty well too). The whole thing was filled with such joy and fun, with everyone laughing and singing and dancing, it was such a powerful thing to be there and get to experience it! It was really a once-in-a-lifetime event, something that could never have been staged.

On the bus on the way back, we gave the choir a lift home and packed the bus full. The choir kids started to sing on the bus as we drove through the dark night of the countryside into the lights of the city. It was really lovely.

This truly was an amazing day.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Very lovely, very rural Venda

We are in a very rural area for the next few days. This morning, we left our hotel at the hot springs quite early to get on the road. We stopped at a citrus stand (we can see lots of citrus fruits, avocado and banana trees, and guava trees all along these roads). We bought fresh-squeezed bottles of orange, mango or naartje (tangerine juice) juice and got on our way. We passed back through the mountains on the narrow winding pass, and drove way way way out into the countryside.

Our bus bounced around on a red dirt road pitted with holes and bumps, beeping away cows and smaller vehicles. The houses around us were very small, mostly one room brick or stucco homes, and we began to see more and more roundhouses with thatch roofs (rondevals). The rondevals are the traditional homes of people in this area, and people still make them out of local mud, by hand. Most of the houses were actually clustered into small compounds, about the size of an average yard in the city of Elmira. In one yard, we might see a small handmade fence for chickens around the perimeter, packed red earth for the yard, with corn and other plants or flowers in a small garden. In the yard might be two or even three one-room houses, right next to each other--perhaps two one-room rectangle houses with tile roofs, and one rondeval. I guess this is the modern way to live traditionally.

We made our way deep into the countryside to visit a very important traditional Venda potter in the tiny town of Mukondeni. The potter, Sarah Munyai, is a very old woman who learned the traditional methods and designs of Venda pottery from her own grandmother when she was a girl. Sarah, who didn't speak a word of English, demonstrated how to make a traditional pot. She first put down a special mat in her yard (again, the yard was hard packed red dirt). On this mat, she set out her materials, each in a special spot. Then she sat down with her legs straight out in front of her, with her traditional woven skirt hitched up. Before she began working the clay, she ululated quite suddenly and loudly! It was a striking sound, almost like the call of an animal. It is part of the pottery ritual, a sound of celebration and anticipation. This is how every pot starts out. She built the pot right in front of her on the ground, by hand, using a special scraping tool to help make it rounded. When she had the shape of the pot right, she quickly, without even seeming to think about, etched perfectly sized lines into the design. She then took her finger and dipped it into watery graphite and painted the graphite onto the pot design using her hands. The graphite will turn black. She also used her fingers to paint red iron oxide onto the pot design. When she was finished, she said a ritual prayer to the ancestors, to her home, to her family, and to the pot. From ululation to prayer, that's how a traditional Venda pot is made! Later, after we left, the pot would be fired in a very hot fire (no kilns here).

Sarah herself was fascinating. She was 86 years-old, and very traditional. She was wearing a bright pink turban and a traditional woven dress over a yellow polo shirt advertising the ANC (from some previous election). She wore a black cell phone case around her neck like a necklace. Around her wrists and ankles, she wore traditional Venda coiled metal bracelets which had been given to her by suitors when she was a young woman. Traditionally, Venda girls go through three ritual steps of adulthood, culminating in learning all the parts to the Domba dance, where the women all link arms like a snake and dance the parts of the life cycle. After becoming an adult by learning the Domba, a Venda woman become marriageable. Her suitors give her the bracelets as a proof of their devotion, and no matter who the woman ends up marrying, she wears the bracelets for the rest of her life. Sarah had quite a large number of bracelets; she must have been quite a young woman! Nowadays, she's even more amazing. She not only raised her own children, she now raises 6 young grandchildren and is responsible for the welfare of almost her entire family, sending the kids to school and feeding everyone. As one of the few traditional Venda potters, her work is in much demand, but she refuses to leave her tiny town.

After Sarah showed us how to do traditional Venda pottery, we had the chance to try ourselves. Many students did try, although some were distracted by the very cute and friendly small children who were trying to get our attention. These kids were speaking to us in English, with limited vocabulary, but were thrilled that we would actually talk with them. Some of our students started taking pictures, and the kids began to clown around. Our students began to clown with them. Pretty soon it was a giant playground and a lot of fun.

We had brought a picnic lunch, and we shared the food and drinks with all the people in Sarah's compound. It was fascinating to see the strict order in which people ate. First was the host, Sarah, and then the guests, us, and then each person according to their age. The children came last and picked through the remaining food carefully looking for the best remainders. In our culture, we typically feed children first, but not here. In poor communities, this has been a terrible problem, in fact, in that children often eat the least in any given family and sometimes come to school so hungry that they can't study.

After we left Sarah's house, we bumped back down the roads towards another small town, Itsani. This town is slightly less rural than Mukondeni, in that there were a few shops and some of the roads were paved. In Itsani we went to visit a spiritual healer named Betty. She has her own church and followers, and uses the power of prayer, along with healing herbs and the ability to communicate with the ancestors, to heal people. When we arrived at her church, a one room brick building with open holes for windows, we sat down and waited for Betty to arrive. When she came in, she was wearing a white robe with a large blue cross on the back, and a white wimple. She looked like she was about 40. She went down on her knees to great us, crawling one by one on the floor to shake each hand. This was a sign of great respect that she was showing us. It was an astonishing thing to see!

Tonight, we were at our guide, Traugott's, house, up on a hillside at Thoyandu. Some of us helped him make African-style pizza (tomatoes, cheese, sausage, oregano and banana! etc). Others of us sat out on the veranda looking down over the lights of the city. It was gorgeous, and the food was amazing, and it was a really nice evening. We are all back at the hotel now, getting ready for bed and ready for tomorrow. We have some more exciting things planned, including working at an arts center to help get it ready to open for a women's craft collective. We will also get a private concert and dance lesson from Betty's church choir, who will also be cooking dinner for us. Before we do any of that, though, we will have a hike through the bush.

It was another amazingly lovely day in Africa today!

By the way, before I go, I wanted to mention that we have all heard the news about Osama Bin Laden. Just so you all know, we are perfectly safe, as there doesn't seem to be any kind of local feeling about this even one way or the other.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Mapungubwe and Hot Springs

We spent the morning at the archeological site of Mapungubwe, home to a culture that flourished between 900 and 1250 AD. Mapungubwe has been designated a World Heritage Site due to its archeological significance. This culture is noteworthy because, unlike virtually all the cultures that lived in South Africa prior to European settlement in 1652, it was not a nomadic culture. Instead, it was a culture that mined for gold, created exquisite handcrafts in gold and clay, and traded with groups along the Indian Ocean. Indeed, artifacts from Mapungubwe have been found as far away as China. Our guide speculated that the history of the past half century might have been different if people had known about this culture at Mapungubwe. Defenders of Apartheid claimed that black South African cultures had consisted of nomadic herdsmen; since they had not settled South Africa, they had no more claim to the land than the Afrikaaners and English. Mapungubwe proves them wrong. The site was first excavated in 1932 by an archeologist from the University of Pretoria. There is now a controversy regarding funerary remains reminiscent of controversies in the United States over Native American remains, both human and cultural. Recently, the University of Pretoria re-buried the remains of 23 individuals and there are plans to return the cultural artifacts to the site in the near future.

Mapungubwe is situated along the Limpopo River which forms South Africa's northern border with Botswana to the northwest and Zimbabwe to the northeast. From the top of the site, we could see across the river and into Zimbabwe. Due to political and economic instability in Zimbabwe, this part of South Africa must deal with an influx of Zimbabwean immigrants. This is an acute problem, since unemployment in South Africa is thought to be 45%, although no one knows for sure exactly how many people are out of work. It's clear that while things are much better here now than they were twenty years ago, South Africa still has a long way to go. This is a lament that we've heard more than once on this trip.

After an all-American lunch of burgers and fries, we piled into the bus and proceeded to Tshipise. The resort we're staying in tonight is known for its hot and cold natural springs which are thought to have therapeutic properties. We arrived here around 4:30 pm, but stopped along the way to climb a lookout rock that provided us magnificent views of the surrounding area.

Tomorrow we continue our wonderful time in Venda with visits to a traditional healer and artist. We will also soon be sampling Mupani worms (said to be good in stew) as well as termites (apparently a good movie snack, similar to popcorn I suppose). Stay tuned!

Yesterday in Venda

After our long drive out to rural northern South Africa, we arrived in Venda yesterday at dinner time. We were staying at an amazing new game lodge, with huge grounds and lots of animals, and really wonderful facilities. As we were coming in the gate, we saw 10 or 15 vervet monkeys watching us. We watched them watching us. And they watched us watching them! Of course, we took a lot of photos (who wouldn't have?).

The drive to Venda took us closer and closer to the Soutpansburg mountain range and the Limpopo River. From miles away, we could see the mountains purple against the horizon. We had to drive through them, on winding roads with spectacular views, to get to Venda. As we drove we saw literally hundreds of baobab trees, perhaps even thousands of them. This is the area with the world's greatest concentration of these giant trees, some of them more than 4000 years old. Baobabs have giant stubby trunks with only a few smaller branches (like hair) coming out their tops. Some of these baobabs have leaves right now, and some don't. The ones without their leaves look almost spooky, dark and strong against the skyline. The older trees have trunks that are 40-50 feet around, if not larger. The bark is shiny and smooth and gray. They are really powerful trees, and seeing so many has been an amazing experience!

After we arrived at our lodge, we immediately went out on a game drive before it got dark. These large game lodges own huge amounts of land, and manage herds of wild animals that live there. (In fact, the reason we had a last minute switch in the lodge where we stayed was because the lodge where we had a reservation just recently changed its policies to cater to large game hunters and had apparently packed the place). The Dongola Ranch, where we ended up staying, was much quieter.

After the game drive, which culminated at a small river dam, we had the chance to walk around and explore a bit out in the bush. We had to be careful not to get too close to the water because of crocodiles (!); thank goodness we didn't see any (or that they didn't see us!). As it got dark, we sat out in the breeze watching the stars and smelling our dinner cooking on a huge grill. We had an amazing meal out there, lit only by stars and fire. They served us typical South African food, lots of meats like lamb and chicken and beef, some great salads and vegetables, wonderful homemade bread and, oddly, some very delicious toasted tomato and cheese sandwiches. They even made some special food for our two vegetarians.

Sitting out under the stars was an incredible experience. We got to watch the stars emerge one by one as it got dusky, and slowly, as it got dark, the sky became carpeted with an amazing number of stars. It was so clear, and there was so little light pollution, that I'm fairly certain I've never been able to see as many stars in the sky as last night. The sky looked like it does in photos from the Hubble Telescope, and we could even get a sense of the Milky Way! We found Orion (he's lying down on his side instead of standing upright down here). And we found the Southern Cross on the opposite side of the sky. Our guide told us how to find out where true South lies using the Southern Cross (and I have to say it's much more complicated than just finding the North Star back home). It was absolutely a wonderful evening last night.

A little after we got back to our rooms, the power went out! South Africa has a serious power shortage, as they have not been able to keep up with increased demand for electricity and the power grid isn't expanding fast enough. Under Apartheid, most people who lived in South Africa didn't have electricity at all. Since 1994, the government has extended electricity to most people, but can't keep up with demand. The lodge came around and gave us all candles, and we had asked everyone to pack flashlights, so we were OK. Some of the students played cards by candlelight, while others read or journaled or just sat and talked. Some of us sat outside in the lovely night breeze, looking at the stars, and just feeling lucky.