Laughter, dance parties, and loud voices singing along with iPods now fill the truck as we continue on our journey toward Capetown. The girls have mastered the lifestyle that encompasses the Traveling School. Upon reaching a campsite, it no longer takes an hour to set up tents and get situated. Within a half hour, tents are constructed properly, and cook crew has already begun setting up the next meal. Girls free before dinner begin working on homework or catch a quick shower. Classes continue both on the truck or while sitting atop a giant hillside as the girls read aloud the President's recent re-election speech. Final exam descriptions have begun as the TTS20 girls begin to prepare for both their upcoming home-stay visits as well as the last few weeks of classes.
Potholes and God's Window in Blyde River Canyon
The Potholes and the view from God's Window was INCREDIBLE!!! We Looked out over the Blyde river canyon and could see for miles the diversity of the South African landscape. The potholes are like nothing I had ever seen before. The smooth canyons and holes carved by the Blyde River are amazing and a great place for photos.
Our hike in the Blyde River Canyon started from our campsite, where we hiked uphill to the trail head and a look out spot. We clambered onto the boulders, which were perched precariously next to the cliff, but provided a great view of the canyon below. A large lake was nestled among the hills at the bottom of the canyon, surrounded by rolling green hills. Reddish brown cliffs framed the scene, impossibly tall and straight. We began our hike downhill, and we wove our way through grasslands, undergrowth and rainforest. Many of the trees in the forest were armed with hard, four inch spikes which stuck out into the path. We continued our hike down the mountain, with many stops to enjoy the view. Some of the more enthusiastic hikers decided to play a long, drawn out alphabet game (A is for Anastasia who lives in Angola and makes Afghans. B is for....) This continued for way too many hours, but fortunately stopped when we had lunch. We ate next to a bubbling stream, and then presented our projects for Global Studies. Two girls felt sick and decided to head back early, along with a teacher. We had several more classes at the stream before deciding to head back. After fording the brook several times, the teachers decided it was time to solo hike. We spaced ourselves along the trail, giving each other one minute and thirty seconds between people. Whenever the trail split, we would wait for the next person to come along to tell them which way to go, which made the “solo” hike more of a group hike. Our solo hike ended when the river crossings became more and more frequent. We hiked next to/in the creek the entire time, which wove through the rainforest and up the mountain. The forest was picturesque and captivatingly calm. All too soon the hike ended, and we finished out the day with dinner and study hall.
Climbing in Waterval Boven
When we arrived in Waterval Boven it was wet, cold, and we were unsure of what laid ahead for us. I only knew that climbing would be in our near future since we were in the climbing capitol of South Africa. I fell asleep quickly on a bottom bunk inside a guesevent, a large homey guest house, after a long truck day ready for the early morning that awaited me.
When I woke, raindrops danced on the roof creating uncertainty about the possibility of climbing. Regardless we packed our belongings in our day packs and headed down to Alex's (the owner of the guest house) to prepare for a day of climbing. We were first given helmets and harnesses we would carry around for the next week. Getting fitted for shoes became a longer process. Finding a snug, comfortable pair for all of us was a time consuming challenge, but in the end we each walked away with a pair of shoes that fitted our feet and our needs.
A short drive out of town in Alex's van took us to a bumpy dirt road which we drove down for a few minutes before she stopped the car and told us we were there. I got out of the van and looked around, unsure of exactly where I was. No obvious cliffs were in front of me like I had imagined. Yan, our guide grabbed his bulky backpack carrying all the ropes and needed equipment and gestured for us to follow him up a trail that peeked out from the side of the road. I looked up and found our destination, a rock face peeking over the trees. After a short hike up, we reached our climbing site nestled in the South African forest.
I was ecstatic, pretty much as excited as one can get. As Yan and Tulani set up the ropes I stared at the rock face planning my route up. Waiting for the ropes to be set up felt like an eternity. I paced the length of the rock face several times and fidgeted with my harness until finally Yan called us over for a safety briefing. “First you tie a figure eight knot.....bla bla bla bla bla” I already knew all this and was ready to go. “blablabla bla blabla bla” The insides of my soul were shaking with apprehension. “Now who would like to go first?” I peered around me making sure I wouldn't step on anyone’s feet. No one raised their hands, and Aunge asked me, “Would you like to go?” My immediate response was, “YES!”
I quickly tied myself in to the ropes. “Belay On?” I asked Yan, my eyes wide. “Belay on,” he repeated back to me. I dusted my hands with chalk and place my hands on the rock I in front of me. “Climbing!” I said as I put my foot on the small ledge about a foot off the ground. I paused waiting for his signal. “Climb on,” he said. With that I started climbing. I pressed my foot up and found a foothold reaching my arm up for a small crack in the rock. I lean against the hold keeping my arm straight and my body relaxed and continued up the face in a similar fashion. All too soon I made it to the top. I got up there and took a moment to take in the vast, lush landscape around me. Rolling hills and red-orange cliffs in the distance contrasted each other and the sun was beginning to peek out from behind the thick layer of clouds. “Are you ready to come down?” Yan called from below. I was transported back to the present and called back down, “Yes, take.” I leaned back and slowly was returned to the earth below me.
Abseiling and Hiking Out
From above, the sound of crashing waves and calling birds is the only thing you can hear over the cheerful voices of other TTS students. Collectively, nerves ran high because in just a few moments we would be rappelling off of a cliff over one hundred and fifty feet tall. Our instructor, Yahn, lined us up and explained how to use the ropes. Thankfully, we would be abseiling in groups of two and not on our own.
Twenty minutes later I was latched into a harness and carefully making my way from the safety of the top of the cliff to a narrow ledge where our other instructor, Tulani, stood awaiting my arrival. At this point, my heart was racing, and I struggled to keep my hiking boots level on the cliffs ledge. 'Just breathe,' I kept reminding myself and somehow my nerves started to calm. To my far left I could visibly see the waterfall glistening and shining from the light of the sun. I smiled and started to relax.
'Ready?' My abseiling partner, Kelly, asked. I nodded, suddenly unsure of my decision to rappel. With one more deep breath I pushed away from the safety and comfort of the ledge and started to descend. At first, my heart was racing and my palms were extremely sweaty. Though after a few reassuring comments from Kelly I realized what an amazing experience this was.
As we descended the waterfall got closer, spraying us lightly with water. I laughed and cheered, grateful I didn't decide against going. The ropes slid easily through my hands and because Kelly and I could control our own speed, we decided to go slow and enjoy the moment. Dark green ferns tickled our ankles and water continued to moisten our face and shoulders. On the bright side, the air was hot the water only made us slightly cooler.
Sadly, the experience ended too soon and I found my feet on the ground within fifteen minutes. Because of all the moisture from the waterfall, the rocks beneath my feet were slippery so Kelly and I had to hold onto a cable rope to keep from slipping. The two groups that went earlier greeted us with delight, and then we continued to wait for the other groups to make their way down the cliff.
One by one groups of two retreated downwards and when they arrived everyone laughed and shared their experience of abseiling. In total it took an hour and a half for all the groups to make it to the bottom. once everyone had made it we hiked up and down a series of rocks and small hills to the base of a tall cliff. Confused, we asked Yahn to explain, and he said we would be climbing out of the cavern. I'm sure if we hadn't been climbing the last few days we would have been scared, but because of this fact a majority of the group was excited.
Time ticked on and it took two hours for the fifteen of us to climb out. In the end smiles were plastered on everyone’s faces and they continued to stay there for several hours after as we indulged ourselves in full plates of piri piri chicken (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Piri-Piri-Chicken-359750) and sudza. YUM:)s
Halloween and Gen's arrival
On Thursday, we were all excited to welcome Gen in Richard's Bay. After an unfortunately failed attempt to surprise her, we headed back to our campsite where we proceeded to get ready for a TTS Halloween. The group got in our costumes, some of us sporting our totem animals as costumes and others creating an original costume such as civilians from The Hunger Games capital. We did this all from materials we already had, which wasn't much! Before Halloween night, we held a welcome circle for Gennifre where we first all shared our special and hilarious favorite moments of the trip so far. Afterwards, Payton performed a silly interpretative dance for the group, depicting each of our totem animals.
For Halloween night, the group hunted down clues in an exciting scavenger hunt around the campsite. After a hard search, the final prize was Gennifre waiting for us with us chocolate candies and lollipops! Overall, it was an entirely unique Halloween!
Scuba Diving at Rocktail
Along with five other TTS girls (three of us freshly certified divers) I headed out to Pineapple Reef in search of an adventure. My hands clung to the woven rope on the side of the boat as our little Zodiac bounced across the rolling waves. Closing my eyes I tilted back and let the salty air fill my lungs as the ocean spray enveloped my face. All too soon, our group reached the dive sight. With the familiar feeling of tipsy butterflies in my stomach, I wiggled into my BCD, mask and fins, anxiously awaiting the ocean floor below. Before I knew it, the skipper straightened up and began to yell. “3,2,1, GO!” he exclaimed, the universal signal to backward roll off the boat into the water. Once our group was submerged, we swam to to the buoy line held by the dive master and began to descend to the ocean floor. Upon hitting the rippled sand about 18 meters from the surface, I was entirely enthralled with the watery world surrounding me. Each diver signaled to the dive master she was okay, and we began our swim along the coral reef. Immersed in a bounty of sea life, we saw a plethora of animals including 3 sea turtles, 3-4 huge manta rays and eels and too many brightly colored fish to count. We dipped in and out of the reef, this exotic mass of life providing a home to many different sea creatures. The crystal clear water and copious life providing the scene for an excellent dive. In my limited experience, I have found scuba diving to be an extremely unique experience; as everything I think or feel is contained entirely within myself. Besides the stray rumble of a boat's engine, the constant sound of deep, heavy breathing is the only noise to fill my ears. As a diver, movement is slow and tranquil and it seems even my mind is given a chance to relax and simply take in the surrounding world. It is an interesting feeling to be bubbled up with excitement over the loggerhead turtle or sting ray lying three feet below me and to only be able to communicate with a large smile or clumsy hand signals. The pressing quiet takes awhile to get used to, but it soon gives way to the many rewards of the dive. Our dive on Pineapple reef was no exception, and ended much too quickly for my liking. The group began our ascent and after waiting the allotted three minutes to degas, our heads pushed through to the water's surface. With a bit of struggling and plenty of laughter, we finally shimmied out of our BCDs and and flopped onto the zodiac. The stories and moments spilled out and we collectively agreed what a special dive it had been. Rocking its passengers to and fro, our boat sped towards land. But all I could think about was heading back out to the water for another ocean dive.