Monday, August 31, 2009

Reed Dance Festival

Greetings from Mozambique, a country with a AK47 on its flag and a hostel inexplicably full of sharpay dogs (seriously, there must be 8 or 9 of them wandering about). I just arrived here this afternoon after a really cool weekend in the Kingdom of Swaziland (of all places).

Swazi is a tiny little country of about a million people sandwiched in between South Africa and Mozambique. It is very similar to South Africa (at least in that it was a former British colony) but a little more prosperous and way more chilled out. (It was the place to go to get up to shenanigans during apartheid era South Africa.)

I was there to see the annual Reed Dance Festival, at which thousand of Swazi girls pledge their allegiance to the queen by going out and cutting a bunch of reeds, then dancing, parading and just generally carrying on with said bunch of reeds. I will be honest with you and tell you that I don’t really understand exactly all the symbolism of the things going on, but it was an incredible thing just to be witness to. The girls had these exotic costumes of varying degrees of traditionalness (I am guessing the Ray Bans were a relatively recent addition), and were just so happy. And in general no one really made a big deal about the fact that there were whities floating around with cameras. We just sat on a rock in the shade and watch the girls go by… People didn’t even seem to be that interested in hustling us, they honestly just wanted to know what country we were from and if we were enjoying their festival. And the President of Zambia was hanging out in the crowd sans entourage. Can’t argue with that kind of company.

Other than the Reed Dancing, Swaziland was a blur of hiking, shopping, drinking and a brief ill-fated stop in a Christian revivalist ceremony (not much going on in Mbabane on a Sunday afternoon). Sorry this is a little short but I think the pictures are much cooler than anything I might actually have to say on the subject.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Kruger National Park

So, after complaining for months about how I am constantly back and forth across to Africa and I never get any time off and how much of a pain in the ass it is to always be away, I finally get a vacation. At which time I, logically, promptly board a plane and voluntarily fly 15 straight hours to Africa.

In any case, I am sitting in an internet cafĂ© in Nelspruit, South Africa, getting myself together after an incredible safari in Kruger National Park. I arrived in South Africa on Sunday morning, after a brutally long flight made more brutal by having to fly around that stupid hurricane. I then spent nearly 24 hours in Johannesburg without being the victim of a violent crime. (Here’s to beating the odds!) I actually even enjoyed myself, walking down to the neighborhood flee market in the suburb where I was staying to pick up some warmer clothing (it is bloody *cold* here) and a set of Mobuto sunglasses (when in Rome…) and visiting the apartheid museum. The museum was incredibly interesting in that it managed to, tastefully, commemorate hundreds of years of repression and brutality without demonizing the white minority. Though in the same way that it seems difficult to imagine that the American civil rights movement took place during my parent’s lifetime, it is nigh on impossible to believe that apartheid took place during my own. I can still remember class being cancelled in fifth grade so that we could all watch the release of Nelson Mandela from prison.Next morning, bright and early (as before sunrise), I was up and out to head east to the national park (though slightly delayed by the fact that the idiot stoners running my hostel got too f’ed up the night before to remember to unlock the gate for me - leaving me to climb the 10 foot fence in order to get out - which was fortunately the only one in all of Jo’burg not topped with concertina wire. On the way we (that merry band of characters that would be spending every walking hour together for the next three days) broke up the journey by stopping at some of the natural wonders along the way. I remember being fairly impressed with them at the time, but those memories have been completely obliterated by the wonders of the safari that followed, so I will drop the obligatory picture and move on.And we stopped to pick up booze - in the form of a five liter box of cheap but tooth-achingly sweet “dry” South African red, most notable for the warning on the side of the box: “Don’t drink and walk on the road, you may be killed.” (Here’s to knowing your demographic.)Then it was safari time. Our guide was a Afrikaner South Africa who was, like all the world’s safari guides, a crazy bastard. He took personal exception to the fact that I was a vegetarian. (He was the type of guy that didn’t eat any kind of vegetable - ever.) First of all, it was as unnatural as if I proposed sexual congress with a springbok (perhaps even more so). Second of all, I was the only one so cooking a completely separate meal for one person was a total pain in the ass. Therefore he decided to make it his personal mission to badger, bargain and straight up just starve me out until I agreed to eat meat. It actually didn’t take that long. He made a deal with me that if he could find the Big 5 (lion, buffalo, rhino, elephant and leopard) before lunch, that I would eat a ham sandwich. I agreed because, really, I have been on quite a few safaris at this point and the chances of this actually happening were nearly statistically impossible. Yeah. I had a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch - albeit a late lunch.
I will spare you the blow-by-blow of the safari itself, but over two days, notable sightings include: a close encounter with a lioness, multiple leopard sightings including one in a tree with a freshly killed impala, a tiny baby elephant that I went a little crazy taking pictures of, a buffalo during the night game drive, plus the usual assortment of hippos, giraffes, zebras, rhinos, baboons, warthogs, crocodiles, all things hoofed and birds that I could give a damn about. (I have attached a sizable lot of pictures for you to catch the highlights if so interested.It was actually, though, we weren’t even on a game drive for the most memorable moment. We were grilling steaks (as the guides vegetarian meal plan for the evening was “steak or starve” - I had squash for dinner), hanging out by the fire, drinking, when this massive hyena walked by the fence maybe 10 feet behind us. He was attracted by the smell of the grilling meat and came by a few times to see if he could get a taste, fortunately not coming to the conclusion that he could easily hop the 8 foot chain link fence. Which was good because it was massive. I can’t even compare it to the size of a large dog. Think more along the lines of small pony. And, hands down, the world’s ugliest creature.
Other than that, it was all tents, campfire, pre-sunrise risings, sweet wine, and swapping tales, which were probably most accurately summed up by the Irish kid as “no need of the truth getting in the way of a good story.” (He had the hyena nine foot tale and breathing sulfur fire by the 10 pm telling.) Now I am spending the night at another hostel run by stoners (though these seem older and more responsible - this is what happens when you live in an African country where things *grow*) and tomorrow, off to Kingdom of Swaziland.