DISorientation

My plane from Pittsburgh to Atlanta was delayed such that I was expected to land in Atlanta too late to leave for Johannesburg. I would be given a hotel room and free food until the next flight, one day later. But when I arrived at Atlanta (slightly earlier than predicted), I sprinted to the terminal and became the last boarding passenger to South Africa. I was—then I wasn’t—and then I was on my way to Limpopo. Somehow my luggage and I both made the flight.

With these rapidly changing expectations came a degree of disorientation, and when I set foot in Africa it didn’t get any easier. The six hour time difference was noticeable, but the sunset at 5:15 PM is even more confusing. Prices, distances, and temperatures all need to be mentally converted to my accustomed units. And then came the drive from Johannesburg to our lodgings in the Limpopo Province.

Just in case you didn’t know, the southern hemisphere actually feels a bit upside down. The driving is obviously backwards, but so are the cup holders, driver’s seat, shifter, and signaling thingamabobs. It’s almost these little things that mess with my head the most. The one thing that isn’t backwards is the yellow lane lines, which are still to the left of you as you drive (along the shoulder)? And of course, the driving is balanced, lawless mayhem, much like Ghana, Haiti, and New York City.

Oh, and I realized I’m in the desert! I should have noticed that locations with hazy heat in the day and shivering cold at night might not have much water vapor. My chapped lips confirm this is in fact arid land.

We’ve settled into our housing, Challet #4 of Acacia Wildlife Resort. We were told to expect lodging for three, an equipped kitchenette, and a shared room with a pull-out couch. Thankfully we have hot showers and heating for the 40 degree Fahrenheit nights, but we don’t currently have an oven, a microwave, a toilet seat, a working stovetop, or sufficient lighting. Some of these are being “looked at on Monday,” but it’s currently a laughable situation. In fact, my roommate Hannah and I were checking it out and laughing at the 18 ft by 18 ft lodgings when we learned that the only male student in our half of the project group (the half staying in the same area as us) still needed housing. Oliver was assigned to the rough pullout couch in the office sized room in the corner. The room barely fits the bed frame, and I don’t think the small bed fits his 6 ft. 2 in. frame! I’m very happy with my roommates’ company (and adaptive cooking skills!) but I hope the housing will improve with time.

As if there hadn’t been enough disorientation, our first full day in Limpopo was purposefully winding. After buying groceries, eating lunch, and getting our modems and cell phones set up, we set out in our rental car to get a feel for our neighboring areas. The first inclination was to go uphill to see whole area, but that ended in a full loop sending us behind our lodgings. On the second try we rode up the local mountain ridge (intense hills?) to some spectacular views. The sprawling villages, cinderblock buildings, and wild bush areas were extraordinary to see again. I feel very nostalgic about the shared taxi passenger vans, dusty red dirt roads, scary driving limbo of aggressive passing, intrusive pedestrians, roaming livestock, small waving barefoot children, roadside fruit stands, and metal gated homesteads. The occasional four donkey cart and over-populated truck bed still catch my attention but are still remarkably familiar even in this new place.

In the distance we saw a few select hills with green, open fields. It looked like a small patch of Scotland had migrated south. As we approached, we realized the open fields were really the manicured agriculture of a large and picturesque tea estate.

We also saw a sign for Phiphidi (PIH-pih-dee), known for its attractive waterfalls. So that’s the way we headed. After a bit more driving, confusion, and a U-turn, we found the falls. For less than two dollars a person, we spent until sunset exploring a multi-tiered waterfall complete with invented climbing paths up and down the falls. They weren’t difficult to follow, but they lead to some marvelous outcroppings. In fact, there were a few locals who made the same route with open beer bottles in tow. We had stumbled upon a local hot spot for grilling, drinking, and dancing. We plan to return with the rest of our group for a full day’s outing and picnic—especially because that’s where we found a clan of really adorable monkeys. ;)

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Play “spot the monkey!” I seem to have a keen eye for these little munchkins.

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Here is just one portion of the falls. The colors from the plants and water were brilliant.

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“Yes, I’d love some cannabalism for breakfast.”

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These little boys liked taking pictures with my camera such as the ones below:

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Most of the images are upside down or cut off at the middle of the person’s face. Their adorableness was the highlight of my day.

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