ON THE ROAD WITH TOUR
Saturday, April 30, 2011
It is now Saturday afternoon and we have arrived safely in Pilanesberg. It has been an easy, relaxed day. The last two evening performances have kept us out until 11pm, but we have been able to sleep in every morning, getting up between 8:30 and 9am.
We enjoyed our usual breakfast feast, and the loaded bus pulled out a few minutes after 10. We have now left Gauteng behind, heading east into the North-west Province. The drive was quite pleasant, with the landscape looking just like Colorado – dry with low brush and mountains in the background, the occasional cattle ranch, and sunflowers all ‘round. This is also a beautiful tourist area full of time-shares, marinas, golf courses, etc. We stopped in Hartbeespoort Dam for lunch at Wimpy’s and shopping at the Chameleon Market, a huge open-air market full of anything a person could want from Africa – and a lot of other stuff! By now, the kids have honed their bargaining skills and are quite proud of the “deals” they are getting.
We saw a paper at lunch and caught up on the gossip surrounding the royal wedding, complete with oohs and ahs for the Duchess’ gown and SHOCK at the princess’ hats. Pieter helped us with our Tswana, the predominant language of this province. Here we say “dumela” for “hello,” a switch from the Zulu “sawubona” heard in Jo’burg.
We are now happily settled at the Sundown Ranch Hotel. The weather is beautiful, nicely warm and sunny, and I am writing as the kids attempt to remove all of the water from the pool in the courtyard. It’s warm, but not exactly hot, and the unheated pool is causing more than a few screeches. And more screeches. And still more screeches. The water is evidently not getting any warmer, and screeching as loud as possible NEVER gets old when you are twelve years old!
Today’s athletic challenge, after how big of a splash you can make in the pool, is arm wrestling. Lyric is taking on one and all; Stephen is beating Tianna; and, sit down, Thomas beat Aaron, fair and square! Speaking of games, I forgot a major highlight of Wednesday’s soccer match. At one point, Aaron lay down in the middle of the field, hands behind his head, gazing at the African sky. Suddenly, the ball appeared above him and he instantly kicked up his feet and knocked it through the goal, scoring the tying point. You would have been very proud, Samuel!! And this explains the aforementioned arm-wrestling results. According to Aaron, “I don’t have arms, but I’ve got abs.”
Monday, May 2, 2011 HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KAELA!
Time flies when you’re having fun, and I am woefully behind in this letter-writing endeavor! Back to Friday.
Still in Jo’burg, we visited the Apartheid Museum. Upon entering, you receive a card classifying you as either white or non-white. Ironically, Jayda received “white” cards prompting to crack, “Just like Michael Jackson!” The first several hundred feet of the museum takes you through two different hallways, one seeing the world through eyes of whites, and the other through the eyes of non-whites. We then merged and followed the rise and fall of South Africa’s era of segregation and oppressions, including the sometimes graphic depiction of the inhumanities of apartheid and the struggles to overcome it. It was very interesting and the kids were easily engaged and alternately enraged and celebratory. The museum is designed to make you feel very restricted and isolated, with narrow hallways and bars on all sides. There is a beautiful freedom park outside the museum and we welcomed the opportunity to spend some time in the open air, running, playing and enjoying our freedom.
Friday night’s concert included two high school choirs. Two EXCELLENT high school choirs. We arrived at KwaThema Methodist Church in time for a workshop with local choral conductor Michael Dingaan. Mr. Dingaan taught us several new African songs, which we performed that evening with our colleagues. As we listened to the two high school groups rehearse, we knew what we had to do. They make an unbelievably huge and committed sound. We’re not in high school, and we’re not South African. We can’t sound like they sound, and they didn’t invite us here to sound like they sound. They invited us here to be who we are and do what we do…and do it well. It takes quite a bit of courage for us to follow a topnotch high school choir, but we did it, and I think we did it well. A concert here is definitely interactive. The audience sings along whenever possible, which is about every song the South African choirs sing. They are quite vocal with their appreciation, and if they don’t know the song, they still find a way to be a part of it – moving, clapping, shouting. It is an incredibly moving experience that I know we will never forget. By the end of the concert, all performers are on stage, the audience is on their feet, and the place is literally vibrating with emotion. We sang and moved amongst the high school performers, giving us confidence with this very different and powerful style of music. You are involuntarily swept away, and no one wants to stop. The audience calls for more and more music. Our concerts have each lasted three-plus hours and felt like they could have gone on forever. For our part, everything is very well received, especially anything where we move. The audience happily joins us on “I Bought Me a Cat,” and they would sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” forever. The one exception is “Grandma’s Feather Bed,” which I think is just a bit too long and hard to understand. Okay…and by then the concert is over two and a half hours long! We may cut that for the remainder of the concerts.
Concerts are followed by a light snack and time to interact with our fellow performers. This is always a bit challenging for the staff. We are accustomed to a nice orderly four rows, or moving in a double line, with every little body under our watchful eyes. It’s tricky when there is a big crowd in a little space. The kids quickly learn to visit and move through the crowd, always keeping an eye out for the nearest staff member and the signal to move out. The staff seems to mill aimlessly while visiting with our colleagues, but we are ever mindful of where every one of our young charges is at all times. And, of course, we know they would never wander away. That good Prep and Apprentice Choir training pays off in a big way in these situations!
Sunday, the day we have been waiting for, finally arrived. We had to wake up at 5:00am in order to be at the Bakubung Gate of the Pilanesberg Game Preserve by 6:00. We layered on the clothes: long sleeved black t-shirt, purple hooded sweatshirt, black fleece, windbreaker, hat and gloves. With box breakfasts in hand, we arrived right on time and met Nelson and Walter, our eyes and ears for the day. We rode in two huge, all-terrain, open-air vehicles, complete with blankets for our legs. We were warm and toasty and set out on the road into the preserve as the sun started to come up. Almost immediately, we spotted several elephants. Then zebras…and giraffes…and rhinoceros…and LIONS! All wandering around our vehicles like we didn’t exist. Well, all except the elephants. They can give you a look that lets you know you better stay out of their way…and we did! We also saw wildebeast, kudu, impala, hyenas and so many birds we couldn’t keep track. And did I mention that this was all before breakfast?! We drove 20-some miles into the park and stopped at Pilanesberg Center for breakfast and a bathroom break. Then back on the hunt. There were lots more elephants, giraffes, zebra, impala, and wildebeast, but we didn’t see any more lions. It was a cool day, so Nelson thought the hippopotamus were probably sleeping in the brush. A leopard sighting is evidently quite rare, so we tried not to be disappointed by that.
We all got some great photos. Ever resourceful, Evan and several others figured out how to take pictures through their binoculars, providing a more powerful zoom lens than the camera alone. Panteli and Michael managed to make so much noise that Nelson kept stopping because he though they had spotted something. We only thought about throwing them overboard a few times, and you’ll be happy to know they are still with us. Sammi got a “good spotting” from Nelson, as she saw a family of elephants way up in the hills.
The day was pronounced a rousing success by all, especially our guides. Evidently every day isn’t this successful, so we were very pleased. We ended the day back at the Pilanesberg Center for some shopping in the gift shop and then an amazing evening out on the deck with two big bonfires and a BBQ – roast sausage, beef kabobs, lamb, roasted potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, pap with chokalaka (a South African staple, much like rice, with salsa), and a gigantic greek salad. Oh yes, and ice cream and fruit, covered with chocolate, for dessert.
After dinner and a bit of singing around the fire, we lay down on the deck and they turned off all of the lights. It was incredible. We could see every star in the sky, from Orion’s Belt on the northern horizon, to the Southern Cross. Pieter expertly guided our stargazing along with a short astronomy lesson. It was magical to lie their listening to the sounds of the bushveld while we stared at the sky. No one wanted to leave. We made our way back to the bus, searching the darkness for any signs of animals. We saw several more wildebeast, owls and a chameleon.
I think we all thought the game drive would be the highlight of the tour. And for many it may well be. But then today, Monday, we flew to George. And we saw the ocean, the Indian Ocean. We checked into the hotel, which is right on the ocean, rushed into our swimsuits and hit the beach. No swimming, as the water is quite rough with a powerful undertow. But we were on the beach, running splashing, playing soccer, digging in the sand, all as the sun set. Another magical day.
I am going to close this letter now, and promise to provide more details in the next.
Life is good here on tour!