Saturday, June 14, 2008

What a Transition into my Trip!

Dear friends,
this is my first try at this blogery, so please bare with me -
I know there are a few kinks I need to work on!!!

These last days before leaving have been wild to say the least.
Thanks to Carolina and her wonderful old lady (a.k.a. Mary Whalen)
I rocked gently through my last nights before getting the approval 
to become American citizen. 
And just to balance my karma I left the very next day for my 
3-month stint in Kirstenbosch, Cape Town, South Africa.
I arrived late Thursday night after an endless flight, and there
were three lovely people to pick me up after all!!! 
Except that my luggage did not make it all the way and and
got stuck in Jo-berg, because nobody told me that I should have taken it there 
through customs, and checked it back in(??).
But all ended well when I got it today around noon, and I finally took a shower  
(first since Wednesday morning), ate, and now also found me some wireless to do

my mail. This place is quite beautiful, and the people rather lovely. The lack-of-communication
issue is now explained by one of the women in charge being on maternity leave, 
and the other, Felicity, having a very sick husband, who sadly died last night! 
My quarters are very basic, and the bathroom I share with two others (!MEN!)I won't
describe to you for lack of unrated words, but I am supposed to be moving this weekend, 
and share with two women then - it can only get better!! Monday is a holyday, so I will start to 
work seriously on Tuesday, when they will also make up some work-program for me. 
There is a lab here where they do work on Proteas, trying to figure out the phylogeny of the family,
I will see if i can stick my head into there for a minute! 
Now I have to go food shopping, so I can cook me a decent non-airplane dinner, and 
tomorrow I will start exploring town and mountains....



Yesterday was really nice weather, and after morning tea I went for a long walk up Table Mountain and around the Garden. The landscaped part of it blends right into the larger part, which is restored Fynbos and Afromontane Forest.

Afromontane Forest is found in only 0.5% of all southern Africa, and occurs here in Kirstenbosch on the upper south-facing slopes and in the steep ravines going up Table Mountain, due to the high rainfall. The famed diversity started to hit me slowly with the variety of endemic trees: Podocarpus latifolius (Real Yellowwood), Olinia ventosa-Oliniaceae (Hard Pear), Rapaneae melanophloeos (Cape Beach), just to start naming a few….

It was very quiet up on those paths, I met only a handful of people, and the views toward the city felt very distant. Coming back down one gets into the Fynbos (meaning small bush), which is characterized by small leaved and flowered plants, like Restios, Ericas, Proteas and Geophytes. Here the diversity and strangeness really becomes quite overwhelming, and with all the colourful and really exotic birds on top I barely moved more then a yard a minute.

As I mentioned the landscaped part starts very gradually and is also very extensive. It is divided up into a good dozen different areas, like a Fragrance Garden, Useful Plants Garden, Protea Garden, Sculpture Garden, e.t.c.

separated by extensive lawns on which groups of young girls, couples and families where sitting on blankets with food, drink and even radios. In between flocks of Helmeted Guinea fowl ran around. There is also lots of water everywhere, small streams and little ponds interweaving through the beds, lawns and paths, and the Cycad area finally knocked me out completely, and I went back to the cottage for a late lunch.

On Friday I had figured out the Internet situation, there was a student room in the building of the garden office with a few computers, but this was accessible only during office hours – bummer. But they do have wireless there too, and I can sit outside on a bench with fabulous views, looking down towards the city with the mountain to my left. Not a bad solution as long as it does not rain, which is the case today….so my alternative is only the fancy Silvertree restaurant, which I will try later, see if they let me sit there with a cup of coffee for a while….


About South Africa:

Driving around (from the Airport, and to the Shopping Center) one could easily think of this place as wealthy and completely developed. The roads are perfect and clean (better then Brooklyn!), with landscaped embankments, the houses new or well maintained, and the cars like in Europe. But then all of the sudden, neatly fenced in, like dropped from another planet, Townships, the SA version of shantytowns! And not a bit better then the worse of them. Tin huts with no electricity, no water, and I doubt a chance in hell for those who grow up there.

It is hard to believe that only 14 (!) years ago this was a legally totally segregated place, with the native blacks literally locked up in the Townships, with less then third-rate possibilities in life. I wonder how much has changed…

Last night we had some lively discussions in our cottage. Siya, a future conservation scientist working here, his wife and two of their friends from their home village and I were watching soccer, and quickly the talk went to politics and SA. Siya and …(shame on me – I forgot her name!!) I guess are representing ‘the new generation’, coming from non privileged homes, having received a advanced education, and going on to graduate studies. They are old enough (25) to still know the old system, but are also a new generation that’s does not bent their heads anymore towards the whites, which they say is still very much ingrained in a majority of people.

I realize I have a lot of reading and listening to do in order to step up my understanding of this place and its people, and I started last night with an autobiography by Nelson Mandela.



Ok. No wireless at the restaurant!

I will drink my latte and enjoy that they have a fire in he chimney going, and then I am off to the other cafĂ© – my last hope, or I will have to huddle outside the garden office under the eaves…better warm up now!

1 comment:

tmd75 said...

I was jealous before you left and now I am really jealous! What an amazing experience. I look forward to more posts.