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Friday, June 1, 2012

"Welcome to South Africa, don't mind the barbed wire!"

As always it is difficult to sum up a 20 day experience in a few words. I'm not sure if this will sprawl out into a few posts or what, but I'm just going to start typing. I want to get this down so I can remember what I did in the future, so if it is super boring I apologize.

I'd like to start out with a brief explanation of the purpose of this trip. The University of MN has established relationships with the University of the Free State and Northwest University in South Africa. Claudia Parliament is responsible for establishing and maintaining these relationships, and our group was sent as ambassadors to continue to foster and build those relationships with our South African colleagues.

Sadie, Anthony and I decided to spend 3 days in Cape Town before joining the group in Johannesburg. We finished our wretched Macro exam on Friday afternoon, caught the red eye to London and spent 10 hours in London. We were fortunate enough to see Westminster, the London Eye, the Tower of London, St. Paul's Cathedral, Tower Bridge and The Tower of London. After a bathroom break and while admiring Tower Bridge a Brittish woman came over to tell me that my skirt was tucked into my skirt. It was horrifying, but the way she said, "excuse me, I don't mean to be horribly rude, but um I think you've gotten your skirt tucked into your stockings," was so adorable in her accent that I was able to laugh it off.

We arrived in Cape Town Saturday afternoon and headed to our *amazing* guest house, the Three Boutique. We enjoyed some champagne on the roof of the guest house, admired Table Mountain and then headed to the water front for dinner.

We spent the next day on a tour of the penninsula; we visited the Cape of Good Hope as well as Cape Point. The Cape of Good Hope was originally named the Cape of Storms; the point was later renamed by John II of Portugal because he wanted the Cape to represent optimism for the wealth the new trade route was sure to bring as it opened up trade with India and the East. This is also the place where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans are commonly believed to meet; however, the two oceans actually meet at Cape Aghulas. The Cape of Good Hope does represent the point that ships begin traveling more East than South.

Cape Point
Anyway, enough with the boring stuff. It is the most beautiful place I've ever been. We had to stop to allow babboons cross the road, we saw wild ostrich, we saw men in towers watching for Great White Sharks- it was unbelievable.

Our last day in Cape Town we took the tram up Table Mountain. Before our departure Anthony emailed us asking whether or not we'd be interested in rock climbing Table Mountain. I responded "interested, but no experience, think that matters?" This brought tears of laughter to our eyes upon arriving in Cape Town. Table Mountain is huge, unlike any of the mountains I've seen in the US. I wouldn't have had a prayer on that thing, needless to say I was so happy to ride up in the Cable Car.

We then headed to the airport only to discover Anthony and I had made a very embarassing rookie mistake. We booked our flight from Cape Town to Joburg for 7:00 instead of 19:00. 150 dollars later we were on our way to Joburg. (By the way, even the signs in South Africa say Joburg).

The next morning we drove to Northwest University in Potchefstrom. We met with students and listened to several lectures from the faculty. We were all very exhausted by dinner time. The President of NWU was such a gracious host; he entertained us in their charming alumni hall, fed us food until we were about to burst and even introduced us to Pukke. (Pukke is the first college mascot in South Africa and the University of MN was part of the inspiration in a previous visit! He is a big hit!)

That night some of the students took us to the local scene where we watched them dance and dance. In South Africa everyone knows how to two-step and the way they dance is so much more charming than the way we dance here!

The next day we took a tour of the Vredefort Crater-the largest impact crater on earth. Now, this sounds cool in theory, but as it turns out, a crater 5-10 km wide leaves an impact so large that it is really cool from space, but when you are actually in the crater you just feel like you are in the middle of a plain with mountains surrounding you on all sides- very distant mountains at that. We were able to go into an old gold mine with a terifying hole in it. Sadie dropped a rock down and nearly fell in when a bird came flying out of the deep hole. That afternoon we had a very scenic picnic at an isolated lake, it was very nice.

The next day we visited SA Grainlink, a very large grainery. We were able to go places, touch things and ride on elevators that we would never be permitted to do in the US. (We went to many, many farms, factories and granaries, I'll write about that in a different post). That night we traveled to Bothaville- and there began a very interesting leg of the journey.

Once a year the little town of Bothaville is packed to the brim with farmers from all over the country to attend the largest agricultural trade show in the southern hemisphere-NAMPO. As such, we weren't able to obtain proper accomodations so we spent our first night in a school classroom which brought us a lot of laughter. Prior to our departure I assured Sadie that the State Economist wouldn't be put up in anything but the finest accomodations, but I was proven wrong! Actually, we had a great time at the school. Many farmers were staying there and grilling out in the courtyard so we had fun listening to them banter.

Side note: South African farmers, or "boerkies" in Afrikans, are one of a kind. They all tower at about 6'5" or more, their hands are the size of a gorilla's hand, their handshake is so tight it knocks the wind out of you, they love wearing very short shorts and a large leather hat and they love to talk politics or rather argue about politics.

Anyway, we stayed out too late with the boerkies which made NAMPO a bit more challenging. (Let's just say I visited the medical tent to get some ibuprofein and a local bought me some ginger ale which they call the "green ambulance"). NAMPO is reminiscent of the state fair, only without the good food, butterheads, entertainment  and really anything that isn't a piece of farm machinery or livestock.

That's all I'm going to write for now... Will add another post soon!

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