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Email: Greetings from Namibia

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Date: Tuesday, 14 October 2003 09:20 PDT
Subject: Greetings from Namibia

9 October 2003 – Day #19

Sorry about the lack of updates. We hope that none of you were concerned. Unfortunately, many of the places don’t have a phone in the room or access to the Internet. So we are going ahead and sending a note without pictures for the time being.

We are now in route from South Africa to Namibia (about 4 hours into a 21-hour bus trip). It is a fairly comfortable vehicle with 2 stories, air-conditioning, a bathroom and fairly frequent stops to stretch one’s legs.

The purpose of this email is to give everyone an update of what we have been doing since we landed in England on 1 October. We spent four days in London. We had been there six years ago with the kids so the girls didn’t remember too much. We spent our time seeing the major sites with an emphasis on museums.

We toured both the Cabinet War Rooms that depict the look and feel of Churchill’s defensive nerve center during WWII, and the Imperial War Museum, which is devoted to 20th Century conflicts. Because of our time constraints at the latter location we focused on just WWI and WWII. There were some comprehensive and excellent exhibits including a “Trench Experience” display in the WWI section and a “Blitz Experience” display in the WWII section. Each provided a good perspective of what it would be like to live under those conditions.

We also took two walking tours around London; one with a Sherlock Holmes theme, pointing out some of the real places used in the stories, and one providing an overview of the British Museum. In addition to seeing the famous Rosetta Stone and Portland Vase, our guide pointed out the early art of the Assyrian and Greek empires, paralleling what the girls were actually studying that week in history.

We spent another whole day in Greenwich, seeing both the Royal Observatory and the Cutty Sark ship. It was really neat to actually stand on the Prime Meridian and relevant for Kristen, who is studying world geography in 5th Grade. The Cutty Sark was very interesting because we were fortunate enough to have a docent give us and about eight others a free tour. He was very interactive with the girls, letting them lay in the bucks and giving them a feel for life on a ship. Lastly, we did our own walks around Big Ben, Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus and had some good pub food.

We then left London on Sunday night the 5th for a 10-hour non-stop flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. The interesting thing about this flight was that we flew all that way and only had a time change of one hour. We had a very hectic change of planes in Jo’burg, having to go through passport control, get all of our bags, go through a customs check and then walk outside about 100M to the domestic terminal. Once there, we had to get in line to recheck our bags and then go through security before ending up at the gate. We amazingly did this in an hour and 15 minutes (we had an hour and 35 minute layover) and made our two hour flight to Cape Town. There were about 20 people from the previous flight that didn’t make it.

Our first views of Africa had been of brown bushy terrain, not that much different from the American Southwest. By the time we arrived in Cape Town, things looked much greener. Cape Town, with a population of just over 1 million people has a definite combination of Californian and European feel with warm dry days in the high 70’s. It felt just like home.

In the three days that we were there, we tried to hit the major sites, although you can easily spend a week in the area. The major trip we took was an all-day tour down the Cape Peninsula. We arranged a tour with our hostel and our group consisted of 11 people in total, including Europeans, Australians and New Zealanders.

The first stop was a penguin reserve to see the Jackass Penguins native to the area. There are called that because they make the exact same noise as their donkey-related counterparts. Later in the day, we reached the Cape Point Nature Reserve. There was an optional 9km bike ride though the park that Darren did with most of the group while Sandy and the girls accompanied the van to a picnic area where we were provided lunch next to the Atlantic Ocean on a beautiful beach. We then proceeded to the Cape of Good Hope.

We learned from our guide that this is not the Southern most point of Africa but is the Southwestern most point. It is also not the meeting place of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans; that point is a further 150km to the Southeast. It is the second windiest place on Earth, after the tip of South America. I would believe it because we had gusts of about 35 MPH as we hiked above the Cape. The views were spectacular.

While in Cape Town, we also visited Table Mountain, which sits about 3,000 ft. above the city. There is an entire floral kingdom in this area, so we enjoyed seeing the variety of flora (more on Table Mountain than in all of Britain). We also had dinner at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and took a sailing trip around the harbor. While doing this, we could see Robbin Island in the distance. This is where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for many years prior to South Africa moving away from its Apartheid Government. This country of 45 million is approaching the 10th anniversary of abolishing Apartheid. In talking to various people while we were there we heard several opinions about how life has changed over the last 10 years.

According to one person, South Africa’s biggest problems are AIDS, Zimbabwe and unemployment. The statistics we heard were daunting. Six million people in the country are HIV+ and 1000 people die a day from AIDS. Zimbabwe is a concern because the possibility exists that many people may come across the border to South Africa if things get any worse with the unrest in the country. Unemployment in South Africa is at 30%; at least in Cape Town it is only 20%.

In this last respect, tourism is being counted upon for jobs. We were told that South Africa has the fastest growing tourism rates in the world. To give you a feel of the importance of South Africa to the rest of the continent, 50% of Africa’s entire electricity supply comes from South Africa. Johannesburg alone accounts for 75% of the continent’s entire GDP. We were overall impressed with the people and the country itself even though our visit only included the Cape Town area. It will be interesting to compare this experience to the other African countries on our list: Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Tanzania.

Take Care –
Sandy