July 1, 2010Posted by Michael Fennig on 7/10/2010 6:45:00 AM
Reporting on the date of July 1, 2010
“We’re going on a safari!” is what I blurted out to anyone and everyone who cared to listen to me, before our departure to South Africa. I’m not sure how the concept of “safari” evolved from the more realistic term of “private game reserve”, but I am sure there is a difference of immense proportions. I imagined riding in a cart, swaying rhythmically, slowly, back and forth on the back of an elephant, pushing aside giant leaves from ancient, prehistoric trees as they sprang into our path, listening to the distant and hungry roar of monstrous, feline carnivores, stalking our every move. There were indeed elephants and lions, however, like any poor beast in a zoo, they were very accustomed to the presence of goofy humans staring at them through lengthy lenses, and could not have appeared more apathetic (except to my delight, when a lone grumpy rhinoceros, snorted, growled, and charged the vehicle in front of ours, when the truck approached a little too close).
To the credit of Aquila Private Game Reserve, http://www.aquilasafari.com/
located two hours north of Cape Town by car, the proprietor(s) claim to take in injured and/or animals doomed to the infamous “hunt-shoot camps”. According to our guide (the gentleman who drove us around for two hours on our “safari” on a bumpy, dirt road), hunt-shoot farms are designed to cater to the very wealthy, where exotic and even rare animals are contained within the confines of purchased land, merely for the purpose of hunting and killing these poor creatures. Personally, I think it should be the other way around, but none-the-less, if the good people of Aquila are rescuing any life from such an abomination as a hunt-shoot farm, then I feel a little better about paying the pricey fee of being driven around in the back of a lurching, spine-rattling truck on a game reserve.
I don’t know how large the entire reserve is, but the segment open to the public was nestled between large, picturesque hills, covered with sparse, spiny vegetation and an abundance of rocks of all sizes.
After the luxurious eight o’clock breakfast, we were herded into large, canopied all-terrain vehicles. My brother even commented “It’s just like a ride at Six Flags!” The doors were latched behind us and the exhaust-filled air instantly surrounded us. The first stop was at what I refer to as the water buffalo “paddock”. Not unlike the film Jurassic Park, these three, cud-chomping males occasionally glanced up at us from behind an electric fence. The national animal of South Africa is the Springbok. This was cause for another stop when a herd of these gazelle appeared on the side of the dusty road and the guide killed the engine and provided us with a very informative description of these animals.
Almost as if by design, the show became more entertaining as the vehicle stopped by a large, shallow pond. Adult hippopotamus lounged lazily by the water’s edge as the two youngsters seemed to stand and stare at their mothers for attention.
As we moved on, ostriches strolled about everywhere yet didn’t provoke an explanation from our guide other than how to tell the difference between the sexes. Then, two large boulders suddenly turned into feeding elephants. It was indeed an experience to be so close to these pachyderms and I took frame after frame with my trusty camera, although once again, these guys appeared to have not cared less whether or not we lived or died.
Finally, we were promised a view of the lions. Again, seemingly out of hype, our guide had to hop out of the truck and open the gigantic barred gate to the entrance of the lion “paddock”. Once inside, all eyes were glued to the hills as we scanned the rocky terrain for the giant predators, covertly approaching some poor dinner destined prey. As we approached a train of parked tourist-packed vehicles, we rounded a corner and I saw why. A pride of at least eight lions, including two males, were basking in the morning sun. Occasionally one of the males shifted his glance from this side of the valley to other, but that was the extent of motion from these beasts.
A quick stop by the cheetah cage (which seemed cruelly small) ended the tour. Adjacent to the cheetah cage was an even smaller enclosure for three more lions. Again tiny for such large animals but the guide insisted that they were rescued from the terrible hunt-shoot camps.
Almost as exciting as the game reserve, was renting a car and driving in South Africa…on the left side of the road. But that’s another story.
Monday, June 28, 2010; Imizamo Yethu TownshipPosted by Michael Fennig on 7/9/2010 8:00:00 AM
Monday, June 28, 2010
Of the many stops and points of interest made by the “Hop On, Hop Off” double-decker tour bus in Cape Town and surrounding areas, a tour of a township was not something I expected nor imagined. All of the other stops were at typical tourist destinations such as Kirstenbosch Gardens (reported on in an earlier report), World of Birds (the largest bird sanctuary in the continent of Africa), and a number of sublime, tourist-packed beaches and bays. But to leave the sanctity of the bus and wander through a squalid, trash and filth infested shantytown, home to what must be new levels of poverty, and record digital memories of the suffering of others, seemed almost macabre.
The location was announced through our headphones, which came with the cost of the Hop On Hop Off bus ticket. “Next stop, Imizamo Yethu Township”. The doors to the bus opened and we were greeted by a casually dressed, young African man. The young man was very animated, his hands waving about as he spoke. Because of his accent, I found it difficult to understand him at times but he was kindly adamant that we ask questions, take as many pictures as we wanted, and talk to anyone we saw. He explained that “Imizamo Yethu” is Xhosa, one of the local indigenous languages of Africa, for “our struggle” and he led us on a forty-five minute walk up the hill, through a maze of wood frame shacks, metal freight containers that are often seen on flat train cars (how did they drag these metal monsters up the hill?), and even cardboard covered shelters, all of which served as homes and businesses. Some of the homes were no bigger than a van, built precariously on the edge of a ditch, with nothing but 2X4s propping the structure above the muck.
Imizamo Yethu was established in the early 1990s when mainly black people were allowed to build shacks or temporary shelters on vacant land, as a response to being refused by law, to buy property or own a home in the nearby tourist destination of Hout Bay. Today by some estimates, Imizamo Yethu inhabitants number close to 30,000.
As our small group of eight or nine tourists clung close to our guide, any fears that we may have had instantly subsided as children sprinted from their street games and struck poses as they demanded to be photographed. Adults waved and offered greetings. Like any community, there were grocery stores (inside tiny, tilted shacks), drinking and eating establishments (known as a “shebeen”), and a church, which resembled a military installation with so much barbed wire and iron grates over any and every opening.
I was appalled at the condition of this small city that sprawled up the side of a mountain, however I detected no hint of dejection or resentment on the faces of the inhabitants. In fact, everyone seemed quite content and pleasant. I noticed that there were small televisions in some of the shacks and electricity seemed to be available almost everywhere. And I could have sworn I saw a satellite dish somewhere too. But it was the children, who perhaps out of the innocence of youth, seemed unaffected by their surroundings. Screaming, shouting, laughing, singing, playing, and posing unabashedly for my camera, they were oblivious to the environment and exuding an indomitable human spirit.
There is hope for the inhabitants of Imizamo Yethu. In 2002, the Irish philanthropist Niall Mellon began a project that is slowly replacing the shacks with proper brick houses. These peach-colored houses certainly stand out among the dilapidated shacks and I couldn’t help but wonder who determines which inhabitants are fortunate enough move from a shack into the houses.
Finally, our guide let us know that we needed to make our way back to the bus stop in order to catch the next bus. Everyone in our tour group quietly thanked the young man and offered a donation for his time and effort. The conversation was minimal as we worked our way back to our rented three-story, waterfront apartment in downtown Cape Town.
June 29, 2010Posted by Michael Fennig on 6/29/2010 8:00:00 AM
June 23, 2010
Although certainly not the highest cable car in the world (that record belongs to the Venezuelans, whose Mérida Cable Car tops out at Pico Espejo, at an oxygen-sucking 15, 633 feet!), Cape Town’s Table Mountain Aerial Cableway provides stunning views that are sure to impress any aficionado of the altitudes, especially someone like me who comes from the cement savannah of Dallas, Texas. Once on the top, or rather, the point of departure from the rotating, 360 degree cable car, we were released into a gamut of vibrating sightseers, jostling their way around for views, that I am sure has been photographed more times than the Earth has had days since its geological birth.
What is more surprising to me, is that fact that more tourists die from stumbling or falling off the vertical cliffs than the most dangerous technical climbs in the world. I don’t have all the details but it doesn’t take much imagination when viewing the unofficial foot trails that spider web their way up the grassy base of Table Mountain. Many of the guide books claim that hiking/climbing is a possible option to the rotating cableway, but these trails seem to stop at the vertical wall that literally rises for the last thousand feet to the top. Where these trails go and where they meet the top is unknown to me. During our first week here, two individuals fell to their deaths, and one had to be airlifted through a rescue attempt. In a bizarre coincidence, I found out through the wonders of modern technology (email) and my mother-in-law, that one of the deceased was from Texas.
Most information that would attract the interested or would-be tourists can be found at www.tablemountain.net
We did indeed make the 45-minute hike to Maclear’s Beacon, which technically is the highest point on Table Mountain, where not only did I take our picture, but also left a souvenir for future visitors from Sunnyvale. I'm sure the elements will have destroyed my business card (thanks, Paula Brooks!) in no time, but it is in the pile of rocks left by Sir Thomas Maclear in 1844.
The weather was incredibly clear and calm which worked to our favor. The cableway often closes in winter due to high winds.
I must mention that I simply assumed that the top of Table Mountain would be a barren, dry, and tourist choked plateau. There were indeed a number of tourists but I was not expecting the puzzling array of flora and fauna. Short shrubs, alien flowers, and tall grasses hid large pools of clear water and lightly babbling creeks. And there were even invisible, noisy, little frogs, the Cape Chirping Frog.
June 27, 2010Posted by Michael Fennig on 6/27/2010 12:00:00 PM
June 27, 2010
Today’s visit to Cape Town’s Kirstenbosch national botanical garden will require some background from your truly. Amy (Mrs. Fennig) is the master when it comes to sightseeing itinerary when we travel abroad (I am in charge of communication and transportation, a system which not only has yet to fail us, but also has served to improve skills in our designated departments). But when I read the list of “Things to Do”, I was less than excited when I saw that we were going to visit what I thought for sure was nothing more than a flower garden.
The last thing I want to do is to criticize my hometown of Dallas. However, the Dallas Arboretum, located on the banks of filthy, White Rock Lake, has been for me, and continues to be, choked with more screaming infants, pushed around in car-sized strollers, than there are flowers. Let’s exacerbate this scenario. As my students so love to exploit, either through honest curiosity or spite, I am colorblind. I could not care less what color a flower is. In fact, most of these allergen-doling decanters stink as bad as my mother’s asthma-inducing perfume. Worse yet, you can’t even eat a flower (yes, I am aware that some flowers are indeed edible, but until Whataburger can turn a profit on a "Dandelion and cheese", I won't be indulging). I do personally enjoy gardening, and thrive on the cultivation of my own herbs and vegetables. But flowers don't seem to possess a satiety value in the appetite sense. Why increase my water bill and sweat in the Texas sun by trying to make the things grow!?
Once again (I quit counting), my preconceived notions were proved erroneous. The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden was overwhelmingly impressive. It is the largest of a countrywide network of nine botanical gardens administered by the South African Biodiversity Institute. Located on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, the entire estate covers a stunning 528 hectares (over 1300 acres), and the garden features Southern African flora, including many rare and endangered African species. Most of this more trivial information can be found at www.sandbi.org
Getting back to flowers that just stink, this garden was full of the most bizarre, gigantic, prehistoric-looking organisms that could have easily have been plucked from the bottom of a Jurassic-era ocean or even from the pages of a Dr. Suess graphic story. Dinosaurs actually dined on some of these spiny leaves. The best I can do is to offer a weak smattering of photographs and reiterate, if you come to Cape Town, South Africa, don’t miss the botanical gardens of Kirstenbosch.
Oh yeah,by the way, we just learned that we will be in the stadium when Germany marches in to town to take on the winner of tonight’s, titanic Mexico/Argentina match.
June 25, 2010Posted by Michael Fennig on 6/25/2010 3:45:00 AM
These were almost shocking words to come out of the mouth of a South African television announcer when referring to a member of the Mexican national team, during a game of the most watched sporting event in history. Perhaps shocking only because, after having endured for so many years the vapid, incessant babbling of North American commentators on just about anything else than the game itself (or even worse, ESPN’s felonious habit of scrolling anything and everything across the bottom of the screen on a news ticker) has dulled my attention span. However, all of my peers present believe it is a welcomed breath of fresh commentary. Finally, an honest opinion, regardless of how painful the truth may be.
I am often guilty of jumping off the couch, screaming at the players on the television, my language laced with the more “colloquial” descriptive elements. However, to hear a well-groomed, soccer veteran, seated behind a desk on an immaculate television studio, recite to the world exactly what I had just howled furiously, but in a more precise, calm, and appropriate language than my own, gives final validity to what I am sure the rest of the world was thinking. When it comes to the World Cup, perhaps some of the decisions made by coaches and players definitely warrant comments such as “looking old” and “absolutely wretched performance” and even accusing the former world champions, the Italians, as being a “calamitous national team”.
June 16, 2010Posted by Michael Fennig on 6/24/2010 3:30:00 AM
Wednesday, June 16
“Forgive, forget, and reconcile. “ These were the words repeated over and over by our tour guide, into a microphone on the bus, which carried us to specific destinations of Robben Island. Robben is the name given to a small island just kilometers off the coast of Cape Town, and today is easily reached via ferry for a nominal fee in about half an hour. The concept of forgiveness, forget, and reconciliation was the brainchild of non-other the most famous inmate of this former prison of political prisoners, Nelson Mandela, and was instrumental in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Our tour guide, a soft-spoken yet of a convincing demeanor had reason to be so emphatic. He too was once an inmate of one of the most notorious prisons in recent history.
I had of course, heard of Nelson Mandela many times. Maybe in history class? I don’t remember. I recall seeing and hearing his name in world news in the distant past, but it wasn’t until I tuned in on one of the hundreds of videos, offered by our lengthy, connecting flight from Amsterdam to Cape Town that I realized the gravity of his mark on history. A video on board the lurching ferry went into even more detail of not only the history of the interaction of the indigenous population with the exploring Europeans, but also the contemporary plight of South Africans and the struggle for the most basic of human rights. Being a middle-class American, it is practically unfathomable to be told where I must live, where I can or cannot work, and carry an identification card, which reveals all of the above. Even more shocking is the fact that, if authorities found the carrier of such identification outside of an area designated for employment, or even residence, a jail sentence was sure to follow. And for those whose sentence that did not fall into favor of the authorities of the times, the destination of Robben Island alone would have surely demoralized the most determined of activists. Nelson Mandela spent more than twenty-seven years of his life here, his cell no bigger than the dog kennels found in an adjacent building. For more information, see http://www.robben-island.org.za/
Our guide shared with us daily life in the prison, the horrific treatment of the prisoners, and was even able to be humorous when the moment allowed, although when he appeared to tear up when speaking about a particularly moving point, it appeared suspiciously on cue. I was intrigued as his speech included many indigenous words, which he pronounced in isiXhosa, utilizing the audible “clicks” found in the language family known as Bantu.
Noon arrived all too soon, and we were forced to make our way back to the ferry. I had hoped for more time to explore the various buildings and sights, but the tour was extremely limited on time. Some of the guidebooks recommended sneaking off from the crowds and explore on your own.
I personally was moved, and will continue to periodically remind myself and others to forgive, forget, and reconcile.
June 11, 2010Posted by Michael Fennig on 6/20/2010 3:35:00 PM
Leaving for Green Point Stadium an hour and a half before game time was a mistake. Although our apartment was approximately one mile from the stadium, we underestimated the crowd and security. It was our first game to be in attendance and we could feel the energy in the air. South African authorities in helicopters buzzed angrily overhead, scanning the crowd with powerful spotlights. But when we approached the stadium, standing-room only crowds seemed to sway in multiple directions and then finally stop. Entrances to the stadium were poorly marked at best. The mobs finally moved like a giant amoeba toward tent-topped structures, which most closely resembled an entrance to the anxious masses. The tops of metal detectors could be seen above the heads of myriads of people, although once at the front, the only function these things seemed to have was to flash a “go” and “stop” light before preceding on to a hand held, metal detector-waving officer. A simple once-over from the innocuous wand and we were finally through.
Our seats were of course, on the third tier of this mammoth stadium, and six flights of titanic stairs later, we sat down and caught our breath. No sooner had we sat down did the French and Uruguayans enter the arena to battle it out for match number two. Unfortunately, the competition disintegrated into a tepid, goalless draw that will most likely be a candidate for one of the worst games of the Cup. Par for the course for us, as we were also spectators for the worst game of the 2006 World Cup in Germany; the cure for insomnia, also known as Switzerland vs. Ukraine in Köln. However, little did we know that just a few days away, Switzerland would pull off one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history.
June 10, 2010Posted by Michael Fennig on 6/18/2010 3:55:00 AMHello from Cape Town, South Africa, one of the many venues of the 2010 World Cup! We arrived safe and sound on June 10. I am here with Amy (Mrs. Fennig), Brian Fennig (brother), and Wendy Stoever (sister). So far, the adventure has been spectacular. The temperatures are in the 60s/70s during the day, and 50s at night. On the couple of days that it has rained, it was very chilly. Our rented apartment overlooks the Waterfront area of the city, located on the harbor, and our abode seems to be nestled up against one of the green foothills of Table Mountain. The atmosphere is electric, with citizens from at least thirty-two nations of the world convene in amicable warfare, proudly displaying the colors of their flag.