Friday, February 20, 2004

Johannesburg, South Africa--Day 21

Today I woke up early and set off of the Emerald Safari Resort and Casino (oh la la) to see Pinky and The Brain (yes, that is their names) who are in the Animal World section of the casino’s grounds. I got a taxi driver from the hotel who was great and was really excited to take me “all that way.” Luckily I had a map because the taxi driver didn’t have his (hmmm) and so he made a call to his taxi partner to double check and then we were off. The entire drive (which was just over an hour) the driver kept looking at the directions that I gave him and then directions that were given to him even when I figured out that we were going the right way, he kept looking at them and I was just about to tell him not to worry about them (and look at the road) when he finally was convinced that we were going the right way and paid more attention to his driving. We did stop at a gas station to get gas (and to triple check) and the driver was very happy and satisfied when he talked to the people at the gas station and that we were going in the right direction (even though the whole time I kept telling him that we were based on my map).

Anyways, we made it to the Safari Resort and I was the ONLY person there. Luckily it was just opening so I guess I was the first person (people did come in after me) and so I went right to the hippos to take their pictures, disobeying the “one-way only” signs that would have meant that I would had to have gone around the entire zoo before seeing the hippos since they were the last stop on the map. Pinky (the male who was actually more yellow than pink) and The Brain (the more pinkish female but as the zookeeper put it, “of course the woman HAD to be The Brain”) were swimming around in their pond and the way that the viewing area was set up it you were standing RIGHT above them. I could as well have jumped right in and swam around with them (no wonder there were many signs saying not to feed the hippos) and since I was the only person at the zoo, after I was done taking the pictures I decided to walk around a little bit more (again going in the wrong one-way direction) and ended up in the staff only area (amongst many staff, none of which who stopped me by the way) and I found myself right near an exhibit that I definitely should not have been that close to since I was practically it! I then found the right one-way signs and followed them backwards to the official entrance, which was my exit. I spoke with a zookeeper for a little bit and then found my taxi driver waiting outside for me, who was collecting plants and was very pleased with himself.

The driver saw me approaching and got really excited and started waving his plant around furiously in the air, showing me what he had found. Apparently the driver prides himself on being an unofficial herbal medicine doctor and claimed that by boiling this bush and then drinking it, you could not only do good for your heart, but it helps in pregnancy and will make your baby see the right way out, if you know what I mean. Huh. So I looked in his trunk and he had collected practically an entire bush of it and we headed off back towards the hotel.

On the way back to the hotel I asked the driver if he could drop me off at the Apartheid Museum in the Johannesburg suburbs. He thought this was a great idea and offered to wait for me while I went in. I will just sleep in my car, he insists. So after about an hour’s drive we end up at the Museum and he drops me off.

The Apartheid Museum was absolutely amazing and emotionally I wasn’t prepared for it, however I don’t think anyone really can be. I was shocked at my ignorance about the entire matter and further shocked by seeing how racially segregated South Africa was and how RECENT all of these events occurred, especially the uprisings in the 1980s and the fact that Mandela was not elected until 1994. South Africans had to carry with them race identity cards in the late 1970s and early 1980s!! Its really unimaginable and was absolutely horrible. I spent three hours at the Museum trying to take as much of it in as I could and met the driver afterwards, who gave me his account of what life was like growing up in South Africa. He talked a lot about just not taking the train “because the white people would just come and shoot you on it” and how he and his friends would get chased by young white kids with chains, as if it was a game. Awful. However, the driver seemed to be really positive about how things are now and reassured me that he felt like things were virtually equal now between everyone living in South Africa.

Back at the hotel I read and transferred and filed all of the hippo pictures and then had some dinner at the Thai restaurant in the hotel (which I have to say is probably the best Thai food I have EVER had--more to remark on that after I go to Thailand!) and now am back in my room packing my things to leave for India tomorrow.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Johannesburg, South Africa--Day 20

Today I woke up and looked out of my window and was pleased to find that it was really sunny outside! Perfect day for hippo watching if you asked me, although I did pack my umbrella just in case there was going to be a repeat of yesterday. After getting ready I headed downstairs and got another taxi, deciding to go back to the Johannesburg Zoo to see if Cinderella and Sandrock were up to anything this morning since the weather was better.

I was dropped off and again the driver offered to pick me up and then take me on to Pretoria. Perfect! So I headed back into the zoo and found Cinderella and Sandrock snoozing in the water (again). So I waited. And waited. And waited. Cinderella seemed interested in me (she kept popping her head out of the water and then back in again, almost checking to see if I was still there!) and I while I waited was accompanied by several zoo workers and zoo visitors at different times, including a large school group of kids who were all excitedly shouting at the hippos, who weren’t paying them any notice. At this point I decided that I should go to the Pretoria zoo as I wasn’t sure what the hippo situation would be like there and I didn’t want to take my chances watching these guys again for too long and miss time with the hippos in Pretoria. So I went back to the main entrance and found my taxi, after talking to several zoo workers on my way who were wondering why I was back at the zoo and recognized me from yesterday.

The drive to Pretoria was nice (and not too long) and the driver dropped me off at the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (also known as the Pretoria Zoo) and said he would wait for me to take me back. So I headed in and found the hippos (Gus, Gertrude, Samantha and a baby male who has yet to be given an official name) who were just getting ready to go into the water, which meant that I could get some really nice shots of them both out and in the water. Phew! I did have some trouble figuring out what their names were since and could not for the life of me find their name board that apparently existed but after several attempts and several conversations with zoo keepers later, I was able to find out their names and watch them for a while longer. Again the zookeepers were really interested that I was from the States and why was I looking at hippos here in South Africa? I went to find out what the Emerald Safari Resort was (since apparently there are hippos there and that it is located at the same address as this zoo….hmmm) but was told by the information desk that no such place existed.

After all of this I hit the gift shop and then met my taxi driver who was sleeping in the car (I felt really bad waking him up) and he took me back to the hotel. I finally got something to eat at the hotel restaurant and walked over to a nearby shopping center to pick up some guide books for my future destinations! By this time it was around 5 o’clock and so it was back to the hotel to do work transferring the photos, taking a short nap and then dinner, which leads up until now and I am off to bed!

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Madrid, Spain--Johannesburg, South Africa--Day 19

Early this morning I caught my plane to Johannesburg at 12:45 a.m. I got to the airport at 10 p.m. last night (however it is basically the same day) and was able to check in early and wait for my flight, again distracting myself with the duty free shops. The Madrid airport is pretty ok, but instead of having smoking rooms for people, they have these smoking stops, which are basically poles/stands in the middle of the waiting rooms where stand around and smoke around it. It seems silly because the smoke was spreading to everyone else anyways, and I guess this way was just a way to concentrate all the smoke in one area of the room but that definitely didn’t prevent it from spreading. At least they were trying.

Anyways my flight was delayed due to passengers that were late due to the air strikes in France, but not by too much. Unfortunately I had a middle row, middle seat so I was stuck between a couple on one side of me, to my left, and this man on the other, to my right. Everything was fine until it was time for dinner (which was really like 2 am) and I happened to get choose the chicken over the pasta while the couple on my left were not offered the chicken dinner because the steward on their side had run out of chicken (there were two stewards, one on each side so the man and I were served by one and the couple by the other). This caused a great amount of objecting from the woman sitting next to my right, who couldn’t understand why I could get chicken and she couldn’t since we were sitting together. She got even more enraged when the steward on my side refused to give her chicken instead and then offered it to the people behind us.

Luckily I had been able to fall asleep but I would wake up on and off again and then fall back asleep. Everything was fine and dandy until the man next to me started listening to music on his headphones. TAP TAP TAP. (pause) TAP TAP TAP (pause) TAPTAPTAPTAP. He was tapping his cup onto his pullout tray and couldn’t hear how loud he was doing it. Plus it was super annoying when you are trying to sleep but the fact that I was barely awake and then was fully awoken by the tapping made it worse. Finally I had to tap him (not my tray table) and ask him to stop, which he did, apologizing profusely. I think the people across the row from us were thankful that I made him stop too, as they look at me with appreciative smiles.

Anyways, back to sleep I went only to be woken up again sometime later. SLURP SMACK SMACK SMACK (pause) SLURP SMACK (pause) CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP. What the heck was this noise? I had my trusty eye mask on so I couldn’t see anything and so I lifted it to see what it was and realized after some time (I couldn’t see very well without my glasses on and due to the fact that my eyes weren’t adjusted to the light) that the man next to me was chewing gum. No, more like chomping full on with his mouth open and the worse part is that I could tell what type of gum he was chewing. Eww. Could I tell this man again to be quiet and not chew his gum so loudly?? Can you do that? Anyways, I decided to grab my own headphones and listen to some music to try to block it out, but you know when you are trying NOT to think of something and then you just do? Yeah, so all I could think about what his chewing. Finally I was able to block it out and thankfully fell back asleep, waking up this time around 9:30 am. Whohoo! I got like 7 hours of sleep! That’s really a record for me I think on a plane.

Landing in Johannesburg was fine but the immigration lines were long and hot. I finally go through with my bags and met my driver who would take me back to the hotel. I stopped at the Bureau de Change to get some money and we were off in this great big Landrover. The driver was nice and honestly it was nice to have a conversation with someone. He dropped me off at my hotel which is out in a suburb of Johannesburg called Sandton which is sort of between Johannesburg and Pretoria, which are the two cities where the zoos here are.

I was able to check in just fine and made it to my room after walking down an extremely long hallway. I was sort of wondering if I would ever run into my room. I did and was happy to find everything in place without any problems, unlike Madrid!

By this time it was 2:30 or so and I thought that I would try to go to the Johannesburg zoo since it closes at 5:30 so I would get a good start on the hippos there. I got a taxi from the hotel and after reassuring them that yes, I did in fact want to go to the zoo, the driver took me off to the zoo and promised to pick me up at 5:30. So he dropped me off after mentioning very, very casually “Looks like its going to rain” and said he would be back to pick me. I bought my ticket and headed out to see Sandrock and Cinderella, the two Nile Hippos here at the Johannesburg Zoo.

I found them without too much trouble and they were sleeping in their little pond so I waited for them to do something interesting (besides sleeping!). I waited. And waited. And waited. During all of this waiting, the clouds overhead began to turn a very suspicious looking color and it started to get cold. Then the first lighting bolt came and very soon afterwards thunder. Great, I thought, I am going to get drenched! Of course at this time, all of the noise woke up Sandrock and Cinderella who began to get out of the water. Snap, snap, snap. Drizzle drizzle drizzle. Snap, snap, snap (I hope you are enjoying my sound effects, btw). The two made it out of the water and I got some nice photos, although due to the weather are a little darker than the others that I have taken. Anyways, but this time it really started to rain and I gathered up my stuff and made it over to a sort of gazebo and then it started to downpour with rain. Phew, I had just made it before getting soaked! The lightning, thunder and rain were just incredible, and extremely close. The lighting bolts would race across the sky and almost as fast as they flashed came the thunder. The animals were not all too pleased and from where I was I could see the Elephants running around and running into their own shelter.

I waited out the rain for about an hour, at times accompanied by several workers from the zoo along with a family from Greece who were really nice and impressed that I was from the States and “all the way over here.” My waiting companions all left before I did and I made sure that the rain had almost fully stopped before heading back to the hippos. By this time it was getting really dark and the light was just not good to take anymore pictures. But now my problem was that my ride wasn’t coming until 5:30 and it was only about 4:15! So I went and found something to eat in the restaurant (where most of the zoo visitors had braved the rain) and ate some lunch then walked back to the hippos one last time. By this time it was 5 o’clock so I went out of the gates to wait for my taxi to return and very soon afterwards he was there, which was great that I didn‘t have to wait long! Plus it became very evident at this time that I was the LAST person in the zoo. I couldn’t see any other visitor at this point and it seemed like everyone was sort of waiting for me to go, so I think it was good that my driver came early too so that they could close!

I made it back to my hotel and did some work then got dinner and watched two movies on TV and now am off to bed! Hopefully tomorrow it will be sunny outside for my trip to the Pretoria zoo!

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

In South Africa

Hi All- Made it to South Africa and to both zoos safe and sound! Hopefully tomorrow I will be able to catch a mid-day safari and see some hippos in the wild! Will post blogs later today...

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Madrid, Spain--Day 18

Today I first went to the Post Office in the Plaza de Independencia via the Subway to mail a few things back to the States. The post office here is a huge gorgeous building and I had no trouble finding it or getting my mail sent away. Luckily the Post Office is really close to the Museo de Prado, which is a really amazing art museum. So I walked over there and spent the rest of the early afternoon on an individual audio tour learning about the paintings. The Prado is a very large museum and houses several famous paintings from very prominent Spanish artists including Goya, El Greco and Velázquez. I spent a few hours at the museum and then about an hour in the Botanical Gardens which are also very impressive and very near the museum.

After all of this I then walked back towards my hotel, finally finding the Plaza Mayor which is a large square with several cafés, one of which I stopped at to eat lunch. The weather was better today that yesterday so it was nice to grab a seat and sit outside eating lunch in the Plaza, listening to music being played by several musicians playing in the square. After lunch I walked some more and found the Plaza del Sol (from yesterday!) and realized just how close I was to the Plaza Mayor. Oh well! I took the Subway back to my hotel and am writing this before I got eat dinner, as I am checking out of my hotel at 10 o’clock tonight to catch my plane to South Africa which leaves at 12:45 in the morning! I have some packing that needs to get done and hopefully I will be able to finally get into my email, which has been “unavailable” according to the website. Until then…

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

In Madrid

Hi again from Madrid
As you´ve all realized, I haven´t been able to update the blog daily as hoped as I´ve had many problems getting to email access despite (supposedly) having both high speed internet AND wireless in my hotel (yeah right!) Anyways, I guess I cannot guarentee updates daily so this is sort of a disclaimer, I guess. If I haven´t updated please just check back later and hopefully I will have! I cannot write my blogs on the computers in the internet cafes because it takes too long and it is very pricey and also inconvinient so I promise to post them when I get the chance.
I´m off to So. Africa tomorrow and hope you are all well!!

Monday, February 16, 2004

Madrid, Spain--Day 17

Today I had a surprisingly hard time getting up but I made it out of bed and was out to see the sights of Madrid not too long afterwards but first I stopped and had breakfast at a café near my hotel and then set off on a walking tour of Madrid. Then I followed my map down towards the Royal Palace of Madrid, although I have to admit that wasn’t quite where I was first headed! On my way I ran into some really neat gardens called the Campo del Moro which are laid out in a sort of English style with a nice fountain in the middle and statutes all around the fountain.

Out of the gardens I found myself in the Plaza de Oriente which has a huge statue of Felipe IV, as well as several other statues of various kings and queens of Spain. The Palacio Real (Royal Palace) was right nearby and over the next hour or so I took an audio tour of the rooms (there are 2800 in all, however you are only allowed in just a few). The Spanish King still considers the Palace to be his official residence. It was really beautiful and each room was quite ordinate and impressive.

After touring the Palace and the adjoining gardens I walked next door to the cathedral and looked around there, and then headed down the street past the Royal Armory towards the Basilica de San Francisco el Grande (which I found to be closed) and then I wandered quite a ways until I realized that I was in the opposite direction that I wanted to be in so I took the Subway towards the Plaza Mayor which is more in the center of Madrid.

I ended up in Puerta del Sol, which is the most central point in Madrid in hopes to find the Plaza Mayor (a really big plaza, hence the name) but after walking for a while I could not find it. Instead I walked through the streets and through several shops until I came to the Plaza de Indepencia which is surrounded by very impressive buildings, including the Post Office. I then walked into the Parque de Buen Retiro which is Madrid’s large park. In the park are several huge monuments and statues, all of which were really spectacular but by this time I was getting really cold and becoming dark so after about an hour I decided to return back to my hotel via the Subway near the park.

I returned to the hotel for a bit and then headed out to get some dinner before going to another movie! On my way I passed the Templo de Debod which is an Egyptian temple (the only one in Spain) and finally found the theater that I was looking for and food nearby. This time I saw a British movie called “All or Nothing” which was also pretty good and equally as emotional as “21 Grams,” but this time the movie was in English. Then it was back to the hotel and sleep for me!

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Madrid, Spain--Day 16

Today I woke up early and headed out to the Zoo Aquarium Madrid which is just outside the main city center, after grabbing a croissant and zumo de naranja (orange juice) at a nearby coffee place. I was happy to see that the Zoo wasn’t too far away, as the past couple zoos in Argentina and Brazil all were a long ways from my hotel.

Sooner than later I had paid my admission and was in the zoo. It was 10:35 by this time, and the Zoo had just opened at 10:30. Perfect! I would be the first to see the hippos! I had my map and found my way to the hippo enclosure, which was right between the African elephants and the white rhinos. Looking at the hippo’s home though didn’t show any hippos! I set up camp (luckily there were benches that I could sit on and watch) and started to wait.

After a few minutes two zookeepers came and I asked them how many hippos there were. Five, they said. FIVE! Who-hoo! That was exciting. All the other zoos have had two, with the exception of the Sao Paulo Zoo, so five was great. But, said one of the zookeepers (or at least this is what I think he said) they are eating right now. Ok, I said, and the zookeepers went on their way and I sat down to wait it out. Luckily I had my book!

About an hour later one hippo emerged from behind from where they were eating (you couldn’t really see them while they were eating but if you strained you could tell that there were definitely hippos there) and so I literally dropped my book and rushed to take its picture as it sipped from the water. How funny they are when they drink! She was making such a silly slurping noise and water was frothing around her mouth. I guess I had never seen a hippo drink before! After a few minutes she went back up the steps to behind where the other hippos were, so I had to sit down and wait again. At least I got one hippo!

Over the next two hours I waited with my camera (the saying “patience has its virtues” really applies!) and eventually all five hippos managed to show themselves. In the time that passed I not only watched for the hippos, but watched the elephants with their huge trunks throwing bits of trees around, as well as the people going by on these silly little golf-cart things. It looked like you could rent them and so people were going around on them instead of walking, sort of like a little safari ride through a zoo.

Finally the first hippo that came out to drink, Sabrina, came out again and walked around the enclosure and finally settled down in the sunshine by some rocks. Soon thereafter another younger, smaller hippo (named Lola) decided to come and take a drink in the water, who was followed by the smallest (and cutest of them all) baby hippo called “La Pequeñita“, translated to “the little one” (she doesn’t really have an official name yet according to the hippo keepers) and is simply referred to as La Pequeñita. Snap, snap, snap went my camera as the three of them walked about, drank water and sat on the ground in the sun. Eventually a bigger female (name Susie who was La
Pequeñita’s mother) and all out huge male with HUGE curling teeth that went around his mouth (Appropriately, Rotweiller is his name) came out and so all five were out at once. Snap, snap, snap. I got some nice shots of all of them individually and some group shots, along with some with a black and white bird who perched itself on both Lola and Sabrina, much to their annoyance.

Sabrina and Lola both eventually disappeared into the feeding area again which left Susie, Rotweiller and La Pequeñita to play in the mud for a bit and then go swimming in the pond. Watching them go into the mud was great because the mud was seemingly shallow until they stepped in it and would sink down, slurp, slurp, and then had to exert quite a bit of effort to move around in it…especially La
Pequeñita. Watching the trio go swimming was nice too, but was really neat was watching them all stand on the end ramp into the pond in which Rotweiller was taking up most of the space and La
Pequeñita and Susie were trying to get past (he was taking a drink) so all three of them were trying to drink at the same time but there simply was not enough room, so Susie had to wait.

I watched them in total for about three and a half hours which turned out to be plenty of time to get some neat pictures and fill up my entire memory card on the camera (I ended up taking over 100 pictures!). After talking with the hippo keepers and taking some notes I headed back towards the entrance to find the gift shop. On my way back though I passed these silly monkeys who were just really funny to watch since there were like sixty of them in this open area and there were about sixty people looking at them as they were looking at us! I also stopped by the dolphin show (which was starting right when I walked by) so I caught that and was impressed by the albeit predictable stunts with that both the dolphins and trainers.

I found the gift shop and then made my way out of the zoo and got a taxi back to my hotel where I got lunch at the restaurant right next to my hotel, transferred the pictures onto my computer, interrupted once by the front desk asking me if I could change my room. Ugh. I had to pack up all of my things and go to the lobby, get a new room, go back up and set up things again in my new (but bigger) room, only to be called about 10 minutes later (in my new room I might add) to ask when I was coming to change my room. Umm, I just did? I told them and they seemed confused.

I then decided to get dinner and found a restaurant called Restaurante Momo, so of course I had to go…thinking of you Mo! Sadly I never made it because I took the Metro around to where it was supposed to be and couldn’t for the life of me find it and decided to get something to eat instead of wander around aimlessly lost all night. So I stopped at a Chinese restaurant which just happened to be right there when I decided not to wander anymore, which ended up being ok. I ordered “Duck with 8 treasures” just to see what these treasures actually meant, and it turned out that it was like duck with shrimp and a bunch of other random things thrown in and I am pretty sure that there was the duck’s skin with hairs still on it. Eww. I ate around what I thought was the skin, paid, then took the Metro back only a few stops to the Gran Via, which is a big main shopping street.

By this time it was around 9:30 pm and I decided that I didn’t want to go back to my hotel just yet but I was absolutely freezing so I wanted to find something warm to drink. Unfortunately the only place I could find was a Starbucks (I wanted to stay away from things I knew on this trip!) and so I went in and found comfort in my chai latte and comfy couch to sit on for a while. When I was done I went back towards the hotel passed a movie theater and decided to see a movie. I went up to buy my ticket for 21 Grams and the ticket man kept asking me all sorts of questions related to my ticket that I couldn’t understand. Where did I want to sit? He finally asked me. Oh, ummm, uhhh… the back? He warned me that the movie would be in Spanish and I reminded him that I did know that I was in Spain. Then I got really confused because Lost in Translation was also playing and for a moment I thought that I was getting a ticket for that. He asked me where I was from and when I said the US he looked at his coworker and they both started chanting Bush, Bush, Bush and not in a good way. I know, I know, I said and took my ticket to wait for the doors to open. I looked at my ticket and it did say 21 Grams so I knew that I wasn’t going to see Lost in Translation so I waited with the others who were standing outside and then finally we were let in. When I got inside I realized why the man asked me where I wanted to sit because they have assigned seats at movie theaters here! I am not sure if all movie theaters are like this (or just this one) but I was ushered to my seat and people made a really big deal of sitting in their assigned seats even though there were plenty of seats in the theater.

The movie was good and I was able to understand it just fine. Afterwards I took the subway back to my hotel which was only one stop but much warmer than walking and now am off to bed!!

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Madrid, Spain!

Í made it to Madrid where the weather is quite chilly compared to down South! Have had many problems with getting internet you will hear about in later blogs, so its difficult to write in my blog. I´m in an internet cafe and am sitting near a man who is having some sort off online tele'conference with his girfriend...hmm....Will do my best to keep it updated! P.S., yes, my luggage did make it to Argentina with no other problems!