Monday, March 29, 2010

Southern Africa: South Africa, Zambia & Botswana

Two years ago today, I returned from a two week jaunt around Southern Africa. I went with a Kellogg class called Global Initiatives in Management where you study a country and have a field visit to research your project of choice. My team chose a project focused on cause marketing and had the opportunity to work with wonderful companies like P&G, Kraft, SABMiller, Newell Rubbermaid, Sho Sho La Za Marketing, CIDA, TransUnion and DRAFT FCB. Other teams picked things like the FIFA 2010 World Cup, Corporate Social Responsibility and Black Economic Empowerment. The group of students grew to be great friends and gathered together this past Saturday to reunite.

I loved my trip to southern Africa. In 2008, 36 Kellogg Students, 2 Spouses, our Dean and his wife traveled to southern Africa for our 2 week field visit. Prior to our trip, we spent ten weeks learning about South Africa, Apartheid, the BEE, South African businesses and got a taste of its culture. This included various speakers, a visit to the South African consulate and a group dinner to a local South African Restaurant, Harambee. This was honestly is still the most rewarding global travel I’ve competed to date. I learned a tremendous amount of information and came to appreciate the culture and lifestyle of its local people.

Here are highlights of our trip:

Jo’Berg, South Africa 

We stayed in the Garden Court Hotel in Sandton by Nelson Mandela Square with nice clean rooms, although we spent the majority of our time at the hotel bar. The breakfast spread was huge with a mix of western and local foods and the pool (from what I hear) was nice for a hot afternoon. The gym is a bit small with two treadmills. It was here that I watched the fall of Bear Stearns on CNBC while running sprints one morning.

On our first free afternoon, a group of us went to Sterkfontein Caves also called “the cradle of humanity” where they believe the first human was found. A few of us took a private bus out to the caves. It was really interesting, kind of creepy but a nice little museum of how they believed the first humans came to be. Plus, our tour guide was really adorable.

We took a walking tour of Soweto Shanty Village – incredible. How can so many people live in such small huts built of corrugated metals? And have nice appliances and mobile phones? The whole village had one water source that was just a hose. Port-a-potties were located in the center of the village. One of the little boys running around stole my umbrella… he probably needed it more than me anyway.

The whole Kellogg group took a field trip to the Apartheid Museum. This is where we experienced load shedding at the museum and weren’t able to watch the short movie. Eskom, South Africa’s power supplier, had to enforce load shedding back in 2007 and expected to last for about 5 years. Load shedding occurs when there is insufficient power capacity to supply the demand. To avoid a national black-out, Eskom must increase the supply (running all power stations at max capacity) and reduce demand (electricity is reduced/interrupted for specific times). So, we walked the museum hallways in darkness with only the little light coming in from windows. Needless to say, we finished the museum much earlier than expected.

We were most adventurous on food in Johannesburg. The “Butcher Shop” serves lots of African meats. I tried Springbok which is a deer-like meat. On the menu was also ostrich and other gamey meats. In Nelson Mandela Square, we also ate at “8 at the Tower” which is Asian fusion and “Montego Bay” serving mostly seafood dishes. “Moyo” is very traditional African food, witha fantastic atmosphere. They painted our faces during dinner! “Wandies Restaurant” is famous but the food is terrible. I wouldn't suggest eating there unless you have no other options.

During our trip, my project team visited CIDA, the world's first completely free university. Taddy Blecher, the founder and president is one of the most inspirational men I've ever met in my whole life. If you’re planning a trip to South Africa, I highly suggest a visit to this unique university. I’ve got Taddy’s contact info if you have time to catch up with him.

Livingstone, Zambia

We only spent 1.5 days here which was actually enough if you want to cram everything into your visit. We had one really full day of extreme sports including canoeing, zip lining, gorge swinging, rappelling and of course bungee jumping!

The Zambezi Sun was where we stayed. It was a large complex with an outdoor bar and pool area. There are also a couple of restaurants on site – but beware of the monkeys! They will steal your food right off your plate! The grounds keepers carry sling shots and try to shoo away the monkeys.
Right as we arrived, we visited the Ebenezer Orphanage and School. It was so exciting to see all of the kids singing and dancing to welcome us to their school. We brought candy, t-shirts, pens, pencils and paper for their school supplies. Just about anything and everything is appreciated. These kids don't even have shoes and are all orphans due to AIDS. The couple that started the orphanage immigrated from India or Nepal, I can’t quite remember. They came for a visit and saw all of the children in need so they left their home country to do something that really impacts the world. I admire that and wish I was brave enough to make that type of decision.

On our first night, we walked over to Victoria Falls. There’s a bridge that goes into Zimbabwe that you can cross if you’re brave. Victoria Falls is massive though we only got to view a small section of the full falls from our vantage point. You can hear the loud roar of water with the mist rising in the sunlight to create rainbows.

If you have a chance, check out the craft market behind the hotel. You can trade pencils for jewelry - they'll take anything. Their kids don’t have pencils to write at schools and the merchants will literally take any writing utensil and trade it for things. I bartered for two elephant hair bracelets for the pens from our hotel.

The next day started with a canoe trip on the Zambezi. It was supposed to be a leisurely trip for about 4 hours… however, about halfway through we ran into a very angry hippo! The hippo had just fought the leader of the hippo school and apparently lost. The hippo was very mad jumping straight-up out of the water and rearing his enormous head. We stayed on the side of the river for 15-20 minutes waiting for him to calm down, which never happened. In the end, we picked up our canoes on the Zimbabwe side of the river and walked our canoes past the hippo to re-submerge into the river.

Four of us were brave enough to bungee jump over Vic falls. The plunge was about the length of 3 1/3 football fields – the tenth largest jump in the world. I wasn’t altogether scared of jumping; however, it can cause some major anxiety! The jump itself hurts your ankles where the towels are wrapped tightly around to secure the ropes. The view from the jump is unimaginable. The misty falls created a rainbow that appears as a circle parallel to the earth. When you’re bouncing from the jump, you head in and out of the circular rainbow and are amazed by the depth of the river’s valley. My arm got caught in the bungee cord during one of the bounces so it sent me spinning round-n-round. No videos or pictures can truly capture the undeniably beautiful site.

The afternoon was filled with adrenalin activities of zip lining, gorge swinging and rappelling. You have to check out the video of gorge swinging. Even after the bungee jump, the gorge swing was still scarier than a 1000 ft drop on a bungee cord. Plus, after the gorge swing you had to climb all the way back out of the ravine to the top of the cliff.

There’s a new hotel, The Royal Livingstone, that we hear has a beautiful sunset and is just down the street from the Zambezi Sun. Go early if you want to eat dinner and watch the sunset – or even stay there if you can! If you’re not tired after all of the adrenaline activities, stay out past midnight. That's when giraffes come out for a midnight snack and they'll get up really close to you!

Chobe, Botswana

Our hotel was the Mowana Safari Lodge. We had a nice pool where we stayed during the daytime, and a great buffet restaurant that overlooks the water into Namibia. You can catch the sunset into the west here where you’ll see the largest African sunsets. The lodge also arranged all of our safari trips. In total, we went on three land tours and one booze cruise. Our safari guide, Simon, was the best guide and took us to see just about all of the animals we could. Chobe is known for Elephants – and boy did we see a lot of elephants! We also caught a glimpse of lions but no cheetahs. The whole experience of a safari is unforgettable. The best way to describe our experience is through some pictures.

Capetown, South Africa

The totally nice, totally pricey hotel we stayed in was the Victoria Junction. We heard Gwyneth Paltrow was there while we were, but no one got a visual confirmation. Capetown is one of my favorite cities around the world. It’s a mix of Barcelona, San Francisco, wine-country Napa and still has a small town vibe. Here are some highlights from our visit to Capetown:

The Green Craft market is a fun bargaining adventure. You can definitely get products down 50-75%. Get as many $1 earrings as you can! I wish I had bought more since they are nice hard metals like gold/silver/bronze and designs that aren’t very common in other parts of the world.

Take the Cape Point Tour, but do NOT wear a dress/skirt. The whole tour is very windy and it will blow your skirt up! Trust me, I think I flashed the entire class when we were taking a picture by the merging of Atlantic and Pacific oceans. (See the pictures below to get a sense of the wind!) I also loved the penguin beach. All these little jackass penguins (really, they are called that!) run around and play. I could watch penguins for hours! They are so cute, kissing and chasing each other. Plus, the scenery by the beach is breathtaking.

Camp’s Bay is a great place with tons of restaurants and clubs. We ate at a local seafood restaurant after watching the sun set from the beach. Some of the girls were doing cartwheels in the sand. We went to one of the clubs called Karma– be sure to dress cute, but you will still feel like the only girl that is not a gorgeous model. We heard there was probably a swimsuit photo shoot on the beach earlier that day. This turned into a very late night for me and several other Kelloggers that ended in bad decision making.

We took busses to go to Stellenbosch for some wine tasting. Our group stopped for lunch at Volkskombuis (one person ended up with food poisoning) then went on to the wineries. Here are three recommendations: Rust en Vrede (highly recommended), Bergkelder and Morgenhof. All of them have excellent wine selections and I even carted back some honey desert wine for a special occasion. Rust en Vrede was my favorite of the three and has a nice back courtyard for the wine tasting. You can buy their wine at the local Binny’s.

The Fisherman’s Warf is a fun shopping area with a huge indoor craft market. We had good fun with the “teabag” art – I’m left with a coaster set souvenir just because we thought it was really funny to buy used teabags. The rest of the Warf area is not very unique to Africa with a Nike store and other main name brand chains. However, it’s something to do if you want to kill some time.

Two things I regret not having time for and/or planning better for are Table Mountain and Robbin Island. I wanted to hike Table Mountain but we just didn’t make enough time in our schedule. Several of our mornings were taken up with meetings for the class project. Sometimes, they close the top if it’s too foggy so I feel I really missed out. The other major miss was Robbin Island. It was closed while we were there because the one ferry was broken. We’ll know to book this far in advance since tickets sell out several weeks ahead of time.

As far as eating is concerned, “Savoy Cabbage” was hands down the best restaurant of the entire trip. They are famous for the tomato tarte which is quite delicious. However, if you don’t eat gluten, you will unfortunately have to pass on this treat. The prices were really reasonable as well. Each of us spent $30 for the meal inclusive of appetizers, main dish, deserts and lots of wine.

There’s an entire street with a bunch of bars. We spent most of our time at the Dubliner, unfortunately where our group ended up every night. You know it’s a very western bar when you run into a group of students from University of Chicago there too. One night, a group of us went over to Mama Africa for some genuine African music. We had a great time – Kristen and I even ended up meeting some German guys whom we later stiffed on our lunch date. On the very last night, the whole group went back to Mama Africa where Danny and Kristen had a little dance off.

All-in-all, Southern Africa is amazing. It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be but we probably made smart choices and traveled as a group well. I wish there were more experiences where you had traditional tourism paired with service opportunities. I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to visit CIDA and the orphanage, create a project on cause and charitable marketing, and really immerse in the cultures of the lands we visited.


Michelle said...

Awwww... what great memories!!! :)

South Africa travel forum said...

Hey Cindy, loved your write-up, and we went to Victoria Falls early this year (but was too chicken to do the bungee jumping) so I especially appreciate that part. I run South Africa Travel Online, and each week we highlight a travel blog to our readers, and this week we've linked to your blog from our travel newsletter (scroll to bottom). That means you're also in line to win our blog of the month competition. Keep up the great writing.