Tuesday, July 6, 2010

More Vacation Adventures

I forgot to mention in my last post the meaning of the title. "Ke nako" basically means "It's here" but more literally "It's time". It's part of the barrage of FIFA/World Cup advertising/propaganda inflicted upon South Africans prior to as well as during the event, along with "Feel it! It's here!" and the institution of Football Fridays (like casual Friday, but everyone wears soccer jerseys).

Anyways, back to where I was when I left off yesterday.

The five of us arrive in Port Elizabeth with plenty of time to check into the backpackers and catch the start of the game at 2:30. We wander. Take our time. Kick back. Relax. Miss the start of the game at 1:30. Lesson learned: read your tickets.

We finally make it into Nelson Mandela Bay stadium (because no South African city can have just one name) and take our seats. Knowing that you are attending a game for an itsy-bitsy fraction of the cost of those around you is a delicious feeling. Poor suckers. Maybe they should volunteer more. In any case, Germany is obviously the better team, but they've all got a big blind spot when it comes to the goal. So many shots, all so far off. Serbia takes advantage of the situation. They win. Everyone, particularly the German fans, are a little shocked and surprised. Nonetheless, it's the World Cup. It's awesome and we must celebrate accordingly. According to us, the only fitting celebration is going to a pub to watch the USA game and ordering every, single appetizer on the menu. The food was great, watching the US get robbed AGAIN? Not so much.

The next day we hit the beach. It was my first visit to the Indian Ocean, and even in winter it was quite nice. There were tidal pools to play in, sand to sink your feet into, and downtown but within walking distance, plenty of old buildings to feast your eyes on (including a lighthouse with spectacular views, well worth the climb). I've heard some pretty negative things about Port Elizabeth, but I couldn't disagree more. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Ferris wheel on the water at sunset? What's not to love about that? The pizza we had for dinner was also a highlight. PCVs love pizza!

We were all up early the following day for a big adventure, a visit to the Addo Elephant Park. After nearly a year in Africa, this was my very first game park experience. It was awesome. Our first animal was a warthog. We ooohed and aaaahed for ages. The next dozen animals were kudu (like deer, but cooler). We oohed and aaaahed again. After a while though, we were all sick and tired of kudu. A couple ostriches off in the distance couldn't even rouse us from our kudu-induced funk. G began to voice our frustrations aloud. That's when we first saw them. Elephants. Tons of elephants. In front of us. Behind us. Right. Left. Everywhere! Unfortunately, soon enough we fell into an elephant-induced funk, but there was one thing left to excite us: dung beetles! These are endangered and signs at Addo warn you to look out for them. Justin, our driver, was doing admirably, slowing down and stopping appropriately (sidenote: when we first began our game drive and we all wanted him to slow down so we could look around/take pictures, his response was, "But people are passing us!" Game driving is an adjustment). So, anyhow, we are driving along when someone spots a dung beetle crossing the road. "Where?" Just shy of panicked, Justin slams on the brakes (not very dramatic when you're only moving at 10 m.p.h). The dung beetle is straight ahead, crossing the road. We all breathe a sigh of relief and wait for it to complete its passage. Whoosh! A car comes speeding around the bend in front of us. Crack! Goes the beetle. Gasp! All of us, simultaneously. And the rest was silence.

It was a long moment before we started moving again (destination: picnic site).

After our picnic came a long afternoon of nothing. Perhaps to even out our kudu/elephant high of the morning, we suffered through several hours of pure nothingness. This is a side of game drives that you rarely hear about. The animals are wild and quite often choose to stay away from you and your noisy vehicle. It's not fun or exciting. It's boring. Exceptionally. Things looked up for a moment with a cute warthog family, but the occassional kudu was still a snore. Then we came across a row of cars parked along a hillside. We scanned the hill. Lions. In the wild. On this hill. It definitely made up for the long hours of nothing (both those past and still to come). A few more elephants, a couple more kudu and we'd had our fill. We drove back to Port Elizabeth, our appetites for wildlife fully sated (except for Justin, who probably still harbors lingering desires to ride an elephant).

The next day was our second World Cup game. We had intended to spend the morning being productive tourists, but instead ate Indian food and cupcakes. Lots of cupcakes. The game was Chile versus Switzerland and I remember very little except the cold. There was quite a chill in the air. Oh, and Switzerland fans dressed up as cows. That was cute.

The original plan was to spend that night in PE, but New Bethesda was calling us back and back we went that very night. The historic town of Graff Reinet was on our way, and I for one attempted to take in the sights on our way through it. Perhaps it is most famous for the Dutch Reformed Church that stands at its center, but that night the most obvious attraction in town was the fully-lit taxidermist's. All the game we missed the day before, we saw while stopped at a sign in Graff Reinet.

By the time we arrived in New Bethesda, it was much later than the first time we'd arrived. Still, the pub was open and we went straight for it. After some dog-petting and excellent conversation, we hit the hay ready to explore New Bethesda the next day.

New Bethesda happens to be the home of the late Helen Martins and the site of her Owl House. Being good little tourists, we went. It was more disturbing than anything else. Google it for details. Afterwards was a more light-hearted tour of the town by donkey-cart. Our lovely tour guide pointed out points of interests like the homes of famous artists, the recreation center and community theater. This town has no gas station, no ATM, no grocery store, but a plethora of artistic outlets and community iniatives.

Sadly our time in New Bethesda came to an end. Around noon we started the long drive north.

Once again, my thumbs are tired. More later.

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