Alright, after the famine it is time to feast! In both the literal and figurative senses. I know that I have been lax about my blog updates in recent weeks, so here you get two updates in as many days. But in addition, this post is all about my Thanksgiving dinner... which was literally a feast after surviving Maru-a-Pula cafeteria food for a month!
Last week I bussed down to Pretoria (now officially named Tswana--but violently opposed) to meet up with the De Sole family. Natalie De Sole was visiting her parents, who are American and Italian but stationed in South Africa, and they invited me to join them for the weekend!
Unfortunately, my bus broke down three times on the way to Pretoria. Three times! I don't know how to describe this saga, except to say that we were stuck in the middle of nowhere waiting for a local mechanic for two hours when we broke down the first time, and then another hour after our second brake-down. The funny part is that the bus only managed 10 minutes of progress between these first two inadvertant stops! Luckily for us, we finally made it to the convenience store for water and some calories... we were a bit cranky at that point, though! It was very hot out, and we were stuck in a disappearing bit of shade under a tree. With concerned mothers telling their children not to go into the shade because there might be snakes. Great, huh? Actually, it was very interesting to observe the other passengers. Some of them just accepted their fate... (after all, as they say in Blood Diamond, "This is Africa") while others made a big stink about the delay. I would have been more upset myself, except that I didn't have a bus or plane to catch at the destination. But anyway, I have become much more relaxed about that sort of thing in general.
We finally made it to Johannesburg Station (3.5 hours late) where we let off many of the passengers on our bus and continued on (or back, as it was) towards Pretoria. Unfortunately for us, the bus broke down again... and right smack-dab in the middle of the freeway entrance ramp! So not only were we stuck for another hour waiting to get the bus moving, but we were also blocking the entrance to the freeway and making the inevitable 5pm traffic jam even worse. Luckily, we did eventually make it to the station... about 5 hours late overall... and even luckier for me was the patience and good-nature of the De Sole family about all the confusion! And the dinner they served (home-made pizzas, italian-style) was absolutely fabulous, so it was a really nice end to a rather frustrating day.
The rest of the weekend was busy but less frustrating :). On Thanksgiving itself Natalie and I accomplished some shopping at the Menlyn Park shopping mall in Pretoria. Now, this is basically a monstrously large shopping center, but somehow my usual impatience didn't surface during this shopping experience and we managed to find all the right shops. And what was even more strange? I actually found clothes that fit! If you've ever been shopping with me, you'll know that I have a very, VERY hard body-type to shop for... being both short and Norwegian-shaped doesn't agree very well with American ideals of fashion. But apparently it does agree fairly well with African styles, and we had a very productive morning. It may seem like I'm going on about this in unnecessary detail, but it's just that I'm so excited not to be forced into wearing every hot-weather outfit in my wardrobe twice each week :).
Thanksgiving dinner was very nice as well. We were invited to the home of another US expat (something to do with either the Embassy or USAID, I'm not sure which) and it was a nice evening. A bit strange... there were many families there of mixed nationality, which was wonderful from a social standpoint, but I don't think I've ever celebrated Thanksgiving with so many people from outside the US! And I've certainly never schmoozed with Embassy folks before, so it was a really interesting experience. The dinner was lovely and I got my yearly pumpkin pie fix, so all in all I am considering the holiday a success.
Friday morning the De Sole family and I took off for Mphumalanga, which is basically the province North and East of Joburg. Our destination was the Blyde River Canyon, which is a beautiful spot! Overall, Mphumalanga is a beautiful province and much more like my home climate in Portland. In fact, it was cool, misty, and even rainy almost the whole time we were there! But despite all of this it was a beautiful spot. The first day was mostly driving to reach the area but we did stop to view a nice waterfall with a fun name (Mac-Mac Falls).
We stayed over Friday night in a cute town called Pilgrim's Rest. This was an old gold-mining town that has been converted into a historic tourist town. Very cute, despite the somewhat overpowering feeling that everything is made especially for tourists. In fact, you hardly see any evidence that there is a real town at all, and many of the employees have to live over the hills in a poor district that wouldn't be acceptable to the town's image. We had a nice dinner there (although my fish and chips came as a whole fish fried up in batter... at least I couldn't see the eyes gleaming at me because they were covered in batter!) and stayed the night in a historic hotel. It was fun... Natalie and I had a footy bathtub in our room and lamps that were converted old oil lamps. There were also candles and matches around the room which I thought were decorative until the power went out briefly at the restaurant we dined in for dinner. So there is at least one aspect of the rustic mining town left!
The best parts of Pilgrim's Rest were the jacaranda trees and the cemetary. Jacarandas are beautiful big trees that cover the ground with a beautiful carpet of purple flowers, and there were jacarandas lining most of the streets in the town. That leant a very idealistic feeling to the place, it was beautiful and very peaceful. The cemetary was fun because it was the historic cemetary and had graves from as far back as the 19th century. The story goes that a robber was killed in the nearby pass and they had nowhere to bury him, so they put him up on the top of the hill (you can actually still find the grave, it is marked oh-so-cleverly "robber's grave") and that was the start of the cemetary. It's a really interesting place though... lots of infants (very sad), men in their 30's (mining accidents and "skirmishes"), and interesting grave stones with prayers, etc. There are many nationalities represented, as you would expect in a gold-mining town that experienced a gold-rush) and many languages on the gravestones. There is also an interesting insight into the peoples' culture because the graves are all clustered together around the Robber's Grave except for the Jewish graves. They are in their own section that's separated by a row of shrubs. So apparently being buried next to a Robber was better than being buried next to a Jewish person? Interesting.
We headed off towards the Blyde River Canyon the next day, stopping at a few very lovely viewpoints. The problem was, even though the viewpoints themselves were beautiful, we couldn't see the views themselves for the fog! We did wait very patiently and get a few nice vistas when the fog would momentarily clear, but it wasn't the picturesque place we'd imagined from Pretoria when planning the trip. Instead, we had some interesting conversations with the ladies and gentlemen selling crafts in the parking lot, and Natalie's mother had an excellent time learning to play some wooden shakers and dance a bit :).
The nicest views of the day were at the Bourke's Luck Potholes, which were at the junction of two rivers. They are really interesting geological phenomena, and the best part is that you can view them from literally any of the 360 degrees that you choose. We were gawking and taking photos when Natalie's father pointed out a baboon... which was climbing among some boulders in the middle of a rushing river as if they were nothing. And it proceeded to jump across a VERY large gap to what looked like sheer rock wall, then scamper at least a hundred meters up the wall in less than 30 seconds and howl at us all for invading it's territory. Such a cool sight! I haven't ever seen an animal do something that impressive in person before. I was too busy gawking to get any photos, so you'll have to do without on this one. But believe me, it was amazing.
At the end of the day we stopped in a cute little cafe for lunch (Natalie's parents don't seem to need to eat ever... so our meal times were a bit odd!) where they made their own ginger beer. That's a drink I approve of, although it's a bit strange if you're expecting root beer! And that was it except for the drive home. During which Natalie and I may have almost driven her parents crazy... for all our chatting and singing and pillow-fighting (yes, that's right).
We ended the weekend on Sunday morning at yet another Pretoria mall. But this time we weren't in it for the shopping, we were looking for local music. And we found some good stuff! I think between the two of us we bought six or seven CDs.
Luckily for me, the return bus trip was uneventful. The only odd bit was that I hadn't actually arranged a lift home from the bus stop in Gabs. I anticipated a slew of taxi drivers harrassing me as I stepped of the bus (as there had been the first time), but the only one there got snapped up by someone else, leaving me a bit stranded. I did eventually get ahold of my friends at MaP... and crashed in my bed, only to wake up very few hours later for Monday morning classes!