Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Trip of a Lifetime

I initially had the urge to apologize for the length of the post. Though, on second thought, I realize it's more appropriate to apologize for all the stories, pictures, and experiences that won't be making it into this post. 

My parents arrived in Southern Africa on the 29th of February, (what did you do with your extra day...?) and left on the 16th of March. We spent 5 days in Lesotho, a week in northern South Africa doing safaris and a week in Cape Town. 

Prior to leaving on the trip, my parents kept reiterating that, for them, this was a trip of a lifetime. Even though I've been living in Lesotho for almost a year this was indeed a trip of a lifetime for me as well. I wish I had the words, time, and audience to properly express this trip.

I've broken up this post into 3 sections. I'm going to do my best to express the sections by telling one good story from each leg of the trip as opposed to trying to explain too much and not doing any of the trip justice.

Get ready to be inundated with photos!


My parents' first morning in my village started bright and early at 5:30 am with the sun just beginning to light up the sky. They were awoken by the sounds of roosters, donkeys, and my favorite morning sound, my neighbor singing. 

My dad, while taking pictures through the windows, asked, "If I open the door will people start coming over?" Such a small question and it meant so much to me, it meant that my dad has been trying his hardest to understand this new culture I'm living in, and trying to understand the fishbowl life I have been experiencing. However, it didn't matter whether or not the door was open. We had our first visitors of the day before 6 am. My host sister and a friend on their way to school who couldn't wait until after school to see my parents. 

This photo was taken after school. Our two early morning visitors.

One of the things that excited me most about having my parents visit me in Lesotho, and particularly in my village, was to experience all of this again through their eyes. When the two girls knocked on the door they just stood outside looking in. Too caught up in a sense of wonder, excitement, and nervousness to actually say anything to my parents. Somehow I had forgotten that the first month I spent in my village kids would "KoKo" (verbal knock) only to stand outside my door and stare in at me. 

I love this picture

My supervisor, host mother, and neighbor were our next visitors. I'm sure it was difficult for them as they waited until after 9 am before calling on us. They were ready to take Kara's measurements to make her a dress. As soon as the women I work with heard that my parents were coming to visit me they started talking about wanting to make my mother a dress. They asked me for multiple pictures of her to be able to get an idea of what size dress to make for her. I even began to wonder if there would be a way for my dad to sneakily get her measurements so that bo-'m'e would have the correct size. Eventually, I convinced my supervisor to wait until they saw Kara, and could take her measurements, to start the dress. Thinking that when it was finished I could either ship it home, or bring it back to her when I returned to the states. 

Kara, my supervisor, her grandson, and myself

My supervisor told me that we would be having a party to 'welcome' my parents at 11 am. Which meant that by 10:30 we had women beginning to congregate in my front yard. As the welcome didn't start until around 1 pm, my parents expressed feeling like they should be outside talking to people, or at least giving food and snacks like proper hosts! Once again I remembered how awkward it felt at the beginning to have people meeting at my house to welcome me, and having hours to kill until the actual event started. Feeling that I should be doing something, when in truth everyone is quite content to sit and visit with each other in the front yard. 

Eventually I ushered my parents outside to sit and watch the festivities. We were quickly ushered back inside to grab chairs. Even though no one else outside had a chair it was unthinkable that their 'guests' would sit on the ground. They instructed us to sit out of the sun and under the tree, breaking off as many branches of the tree as they deemed necessary for us to get a proper view. 

Bo-'m'e brought out the joala (homemade beer) and began singing to signal that the party would begin.

My favorite ntate wasted no time in getting my parents up and dancing

We all knew Kara would easily get up and dance
It was something special to see my dad get up there and dance too

With a cow tail no less

We both commented later (hours later...) that our cheeks hurt from so much smiling

A couple days before my parents came to visit I was outside dumping water when an ntate walked past my house, clearly drunk, with some chicken heads in a bag. As soon as he spotted me he walked into my yard telling me that we would cook dinner together. I joked and laughed with him for a few minutes while also trying to find a polite way to tell him to leave. He meant absolutely no harm and talking alone to a drunk man in my front yard isn't a favorite pastime of mine in any language or culture. My host sister had recently gotten home from school and came out into the yard at this point to tell the man to go home, and he promptly left. This was a story I considered telling my dad after it happened. I ultimately chose not to tell him until he came to my village and had a better understanding of the people and culture.

Only an hour or so into the celebration the ntate wandered over to join the party. I'm sure as soon as he heard bo-'m'e singing he knew that joala was close by. He joined the group with a younger man I had never seen before. He immediately came up to my parents and tried to speak to them in Afrikaans (a language descended from Dutch and one of South Africa's 11 official languages). I told him, in Sesotho, that we do not speak Afrikaans (something I tell this particular ntate at least 2x a month). He turned to his friend and exclaimed, "They don't speak Afrikaans!" his friend answered, "But they're white!"

Our drunken friend in the yellow. 
Jumped in on a traditional dance done only my bo-'m'e
He had no idea what he was doing and it was fantastic
The 'm'e was laughing so hard she could barely blow her whistle

Favorite neighbor baby

Helping my dad to don the traditional blanket known as a kobo

I will never forget how amazing this was
Having my two families meet

Now Kara in the Kobo and Basotho hat

After a few hours of celebrating we were ushered back inside my house and told to eat dinner, because the kids would soon be coming home from school and would want to dance for my parents.

Girls dancing for my parents

The moment my dad had been waiting for all day
Bringing out a ball to play with the kids

He was loving every minute of it

Kara teaching the kids to selfie

Finally, at sunset we were able to go back inside the house to look at pictures, talk, and laugh about what a crazy day this was. I loved being able to show my parents the community I live in. If they were worried about me before, I think they're considerably less worried now. I could tell them until I was blue in the face how loved and cared for I am here... and (understandably) none of that mattered until they could feel it for themselves. 

The next morning we had visitors again before 7 am. This time it was my supervisor and host mom with Kara's traditional seshoeshoe (sah-shway-shway) dress! They had taken her measurements and made her a dress in less than 24 hours. 

Supervisor, host mom, and Kara

My favorite mountain that I see everyday
Also climbed it in October

Kara with one of the women who helped sew her beautiful seshoeshoe dress

My neighbor made a broom for Kara
Also with my host mom again

My favorite ntate wearing a Phillie's hat that my dad gave him
Sharing a bit of our culture as a thanks for sharing his with us

Pumping water! Not as easy as it looks

After leaving my village we went into Mohale's Hoek camp town for Braai with my PCV friends and drinks at the hotel bar. The following day we drove to Semonkong in the foothills of the mountains.

Taxi driver in Mohale's Hoek camp town 

Donkey pub crawl!

Just as much fun as the first time

And just as shocking to the donkey handlers that I could speak Sesotho

Mountain view in Semonkong


Honestly, I wasn't terribly excited for the safari section of our trip. I was stoked to spend time with my parents and I wasn't sure what to expect from the safaris. From friends that I've talked to it seemed rare to see all of the Big 5 animals and I had assumed that we would be seeing most of the animals through binoculars or a zoom lens. 

Luckily, I wasn't the one planning this trip or we would have missed out on an amazing experience. Overall, we stayed in 3 different safari parks: Nambiti hills. Jocks Safari Lodge in Kruger, and Elephant Plains in Sabi Sands. All three were very different and fantastic in their own ways. I wish it was possible to combine all 3 for the ultimate safari experience.

Spoiler Alert! We saw the Big 5... multiple times. And I would say that they were all within 10-15 meters of our safari vehicle. No binoculars needed! At one point I was keeping a tally of all the big cats (lions and leopards) that we had seen, until I lost count. Seriously.

Black rhino!
Fantastic find, these guys are quite rare
Strangely enough this female was also born without ears

African (Cape) buffalo
Very dangerous and aggressive animal
Supposedly vindictive as well, we were told that if a lion tries to kill a buffalo and doesn't succeed the buffalo with hunt down the lion and attempt to kill it. Also if they happen to find lion cubs they will immediately stomp them to death. Even though the cubs don't pose a threat now, the buffalo understands that they eventually will. 

Our first lion

He happened to be a part of a mating pair and we hung around just long enough to watch this happen
When a lioness is in heat the male will be with her constantly because they mate every 10 minutes for 4-5 days

Our ranger following some big cat tracks 

Absolutely gorgeous animals

Turtle hitchin' on the back of a hippo

Hyena den!

Disney steered us wrong, these guys are cute!

Large male leopard

Baby elephant

Maybe now you can understand why I lost track of the number of cats we saw...

Anyone else checking out the size of those massive paws??

Lion paw print
With the iPhone 6 for size

Mama leopard

Female cub 10 months old
I love this picture because you can see how close we are to the cub with the edge of the cellphone in the picture


Baby playing with mom

Mom's done

Leopard with a kill (impala) in the tree

Down in the riverbed looking up at her

Hippo out of the water

We have an absurd amount of fantastic pictures of the mother and cub leopard because we spent so much time watching them. As soon as we found them, and realized they had a kill in the tree, they became the most consistent animals to find because they were never far from their current 'home base'. On our last morning we went back to check on mama and baby one more time. We had been there the night before (a story Kara tells with an embellished dramatic flair that I can't do justice to) when two hyenas had moved into the area hoping that the impala would fall from the tree for them to feast on.

In the morning we were not surprised to find the two hyenas and 2 leopards all laying under the tree. Our ranger had commented that the leopard cub is almost too chill, though they attribute part of that to the fact that her mother is the most relaxed leopard they have in the park. We watched as the baby rolled around in the dirt, seemingly oblivious to the threat of two hyenas that could easily kill her. 

We've been told that hyenas in a pack can kill a full grown leopard, though its a bit more work than the hyenas would like. Preferring to steal a kill instead of kill on their own. This particular mother has already had one of her cubs killed by a hyena so she was not letting the hyenas out of her site around her blissfully unaware cub. 

Two hyenas hoping dinner will literally fall out of the tree for them

Mama keeping her eyes on the hyenas

It's hard to get a sense of how far apart these hyenas and leopard are from these pictures. I would say they were about 15 meters apart from each other. With the cub about 10 meters away from the hyenas and down the hill from us a bit.

As we sat watching we noticed the sound of something crashing through the trees. Eventually, we saw that it was a few elephants, including a mother elephant with her less than 1 year old baby. Our ranger instructed us to be quiet because the elephants hadn't seen the leopard yet. 

The elephants continued to head right towards us, which meant that they were heading directly towards the leopard and hyenas. As the mother elephant got closer she began to walk slower and sniff the air, with her (also blissfully unaware) baby traipsing next to her. 

As soon as the elephant could see the leopard she stomped her feet, flapped her ears, and let out a fantastically loud trumpet! I jumped because it was so loud and I hadn't been expecting it. The mother leopard and hyenas immediately jumped up and ran away. The mother elephant even ran over to the hill the leopard had run down, trumpeting and stomping her feet, as though to say, "Yah! And don't come back!"

It had been an intense moment and something very cool to witness. When reading about these animals or thinking about them while observing them in a zoo it's hard to remember how interconnected they all are. A leopard can kill a hyena... a pack of hyena can kill a leopard.. and yet you might find them laying in a clearing together one morning. And they can also all be scared away by an angry Mama. 

After the literal and figurative dust settled we looked around to see if we could still see any of the leopards or hyena. Sure enough the cub hadn't moved an inch, her head peering up through the grass curiously as if to say, "Hey, where'd everyone go?"

Blissfully unaware baby

All the excitement made the little one hungry

While on the safaris in multiple parks the topic of safety came up multiple times. Through the mandated safety talks by rangers for first time safari goers, and through questions from us as riders while sitting within 3 meters of a leopard cub who looks like shes considering jumping into the safari vehicle..

Something every ranger assured us of is that the animals see the vehicle, and the passengers inside, as one large entity. If they see it as an animal they've learned that it's not a threat to them... and it's also not something they could attack for a meal. This is why they repeatedly tell us not to stand up inside the vehicle, stick our arms or legs out of the vehicle, or let anything (clothing, ponchos..) dangle outside of the vehicle. 

A pride of 5 lioness excited to see each other again

I believed them that this was true, and it didn't truly hit home until we were watching 5 lioness in a clearing. All 5 lions were laying down in different areas of this clearing when a third safari vehicle drove up dragging a massive branch caught in the back. Immediately 3 of the lions picked up their heads, intrigued by this new thing in their environment. They hadn't reacted when the second vehicle joined us in the clearing but with this third vehicle dragging a stick something was immediately different. 

One lion started to go over towards the stick before turning around and walking away. A second lion then stood up and walked over to the stick. She smelled it for a moment before quickly grabbing it in her mouth and running away with it. 

Sniffing the intruder

Prancing away with her new find

I don't know what the process was to get these animals comfortable around the site of these vehicles... and I know truly believe them when they say that the animals view the vehicles as one big thing.. as long as the passengers inside don't disrupt the visual integrity of the vehicle. 

Safari life was rough!
Just kidding.. kind of. 
4:30 am wake up for the morning safari and not getting back to our rooms until 10 pm after dinner was a hard schedule to keep!

Photo with Mr. Milk and our new family member Valerie!

We made friends with our servers EVERYWHERE we went by trying to learn the local languages. Upon arriving in an area, I always asked what languages were spoken in the area. We then made a solid effort at learning the greetings in the local languages (Xhosa, Zulu, Swazi, and Shaangan) from the servers. Which made us love them, and them appreciate us in return. I was really proud of my parents (and Valerie!) for making an effort to remember the greetings! Such a seemingly simple thing really goes a very long way. 

Cape Town

After a week at the safari parks we took a flight to Cape Town, South Africa. Where we stayed in the fanciest hotel I've ever been in, Cape Grace Hotel. Everyone knew our names.. remembered our drink orders.. and even remembered, and asked about, the activity we had done for the day upon our return. And this was not a small hotel. They do their job INCREDIBLY well. 

Cape Town was a bit of a whirlwind trip, we were trying to fit a lot into 6 days! We took a drive down to the Cape of Good Hope where it's believed the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet and around to Simon's Town to eat lunch at a fish and chips place on the coast and to catch a glimpse of the African Penguin (jackass penguin).

We went on a day of winery tours in Stellenbosch. My father and I climbed Table Mountain and met Kara on the top before taking the cable way back down. We took multiple walking tours around Cape Town, a historical tour and a district 6 tour, and took the boat out to Robben Island. All while eating delicious food and doing some souvenir shopping and a bit of pool time at the hotel.

View outside our hotel windows
Table cloth slowly coming over the top of Table Mountain 

Table Mountain with the table cloth

And without. 

On our way to Cape of Good Hope

So beautiful
If only the water wasn't absolutely freezing year round!

Used to be called Cape of Storms because of so many shipwrecks off the coast
Renamed to Cape of Good Hope because Cape of Storms was too pessimistic
Basically Cape of Good Luck

So windy

Jackass Penguin!

Options for lunch
By the end of this trip we had tried all of these.. and more

Treating ourselves to a wine tasting after Cape of Good Hope and Simon's Town

First wine tasting

Kara getting artsy with the camera

Because sometimes you need a wine glass as big as your head!

Serendipity struck and we ran into our best safari friend while on a wine tour in Stellenbosch!
Incredibly pleasant surprise

Stole this picture from Valerie on Facebook because I like it so much!

The bench slates read:
From the Government Gazette registration of reclassifications 1938:
518 Coloured persons were reclassified as White persons
1 White person was reclassified as a Coloured person

Bench reads:
Edited from the Population Registration Act No. 30 of 1950
A White person in in appearance White - and not Coloured
A Coloured is a person who is not a White or a Bantu

"Today the majority of South Africans, black and white, recognize that apartheid has no future. It has to be ended by our own decisive mass action in order to build peace and security."

Where Nelson Mandela gave his speech upon being released from prison for 27 years. 

Graffiti outside of district 6
Depicting different parts of Apartheid throughout the decades

District 6

"When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity."
-Nelson Mandela

View of Cape Town from the boat to Robben Island

Robben Island
Prison where Mandela was held for a part of his life sentence (of which he served 27 years before being released)

Tours are done by previous prisoners on the island
Our guide, Dumisani Mwandla

 "Are you bitter about your time here?"
"Eh.. Not really. When the monster called apartheid showed up we knew that either you were going to die or you're going to prison for a long time. Here? I got to live another day." 

Mandala's cell

Photo op on Robben Island

The different types meat on this skewer changed based on who we asked. 

Warthog, Zebra, Crocodile, Ostrich
Loved Warthog and crocodile!

The highlight for both me and my parents in Cape Town was something a bit off the tourist track. We spent an evening in Khayelitsha, Xhosa for 'new home', the second largest township in South Africa at the Amandla CTC 10 field.

In case the idea of a South African township is a fuzzy idea for you here's a quick lesson from Wikipedia's page on Townships and Khayelitsha:

"In South Africa, township refers to the underdeveloped urban living areas that, from the late 19th century until the end of apartheid, were usually reserved for non-white residents, namely black Africans, Coloureds, and Indians. Townships were built on the periphery of towns and cities.

Township communities are faced with several social problems. Most often, the residents of townships do not own the land on which their houses are built. In effect, these houses are built illegally. Construction is informal and unregulated by the government. This results in a lack of access to basic services such as sewage, electricity, roads and clean water, which adversely affects residents' quality of life."

"Cape Town initially opposed implementing the Group Areas act passed in 1950 and residential areas in the city remained unsegregated until the first Group Areas were declared in the city in 1957. When Cape town did start implementing the Group Areas Act, it did so more severely than any other major city; by the mid-1980s it became one of the most segregated cities in South Africa.

Khayelitsha was one of the apartheid regime's final attempts to enforce the Group Areas Act and was seen as the solution to two problems: the rapidly growing number of migrants from the Eastern Cape, and overcrowding in other Cape Town townships."

I struggled to find a consistent estimate on the population of Khayelitsha. According to the 2011 census there are just over 300,000 residents. Though it's thought that this is an estimate for the number of formal residents. Other websites suggest the total population at being over 2 million (probably closer to the truth counting formal and informal residents). 

In 2007 the CTC Ten Foundation was founded to honor the memory of Christopher T. Campbell, an avid soccer player and travel enthusiast, who passed away suddenly at the age of 21. CTC Ten's mission is to promote the education and development of disadvantaged you through sport in Khayelitsha. 

In January 2009, CTC 10 foundation hosted the grand opening of the Chris Campbell Memorial Field - the first community turf field in Khayelitsha Site B. According to the site, each month more than 2,000 local children participate in programs at the field ranging from a young adult crime prevention league to girl's empowerment teams. 

CTC Ten has partnered with NGO AMANDLA EduFootball. Each week, kids come out to participate in soccer clinics, leagues, and tournaments. But the multipurpose facility extends far beyond soccer. There is a strong focus on academics, HIV-AIDS education, and life skills. As well as providing a safe hub for kids from the township to come to.

My father plays soccer with the late Chris Campbell's father. So he has been slowly hearing more and more about this memorial field and the work being done there. We couldn't pass up the chance to check it out. We happened to be in Cape Town while Barclays, Beyond Sport and the Premier League partnered with Amandla to deliver a 24 team tournament at the CTC 10 field.

As we watched the game young children, too young to play in the tournament ran all over the sidelines. Doing cartwheels, tumbles, and playing with balls made from plastic bags that they've brought from home. My parents kept remarking on how wonderful it was to watch a group of kids just having fun and 'being kids'. It didn't take long before the kids realized we were friendly and began touching our hair, hanging on our hands, and trying to play games with us. The resiliency of the human race continues to blow my mind on a daily basis. When interacting with people who have so much to complain about... and don't. 

One day at breakfast we told our server that we would be going to a soccer tournament in Khayelitsha, he commented, "Oh I stay there!". Working everyday alongside such affluence everyday, going home to Khayelitsha and still responding with pride when talking about the place where he lives. 

We watched many games, including the final game, and playing with the kids was the highlight for all of us. Watching my parents play with these kids and listening to the things they remark on reminds me of the things I'll miss when my service is over. I would like to say that it reminded me not to take these things for granted... and is that possible? I actually think it would be unhealthy to try to live my next year (or 2??) living in a sense of wonder as I did my first month in country. 

The fantastic turf field

An idea of the house structures people live in in these townships

The other highlight of this trip for me? Hiking Table Mountain with my dad. As crazy as it sounds I'd forgotten how much I missed him. He's my hero and someone I think of daily. I'm so grateful that I'm doing Peace Corps in an era when I can stay so connected to family and friends back home, and it was even better to see him in person!

Hiking Table Mountain
If you look closely you can see the other hikers on the switchbacks

Last stretch to the top!

Selfie at the top with my dad
Took us just over an hour, talking the entire time

Once they have meaning in your life you'll suddenly see them everywhere

Walking out after the cable way

This trip was amazing. I am so grateful for my parents taking the time, money, and energy to come see me! They spent two nights at my site with no electricity or running water and then took me on an amazing vacation. I cannot even begin to express what this trip meant to me. I will never forget this trip. What an amazing time.


  1. Katie,
    Thanks for a great post and the great pics. I played soccer with your Dad today and spoke to him afterwards about your trip. My wife and I are going to have dinner with your parents as we are headed to safari at Namibia and Victoria Falls in 6 weeks. Your dad sounds very proud and gushed about the trip! Vince Bellwoar

    1. Thanks for the read! I haven't been to Namibia or Victoria falls (yet!), so I look forward to hearing about your trip from my Dad. You're going to have many great stories to swap!

  2. You guys rock! Awesome places!

    1. Thanks! The trip was fantastic!