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Warning!! This is NOT your typical Africa trip report!

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May 20th, 2005, 03:48 PM
  #1
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Warning!! This is NOT your typical Africa trip report!

I hesitated on whether I should even post a trip report about my recent (and first) trip to Africa, but I figured what the heck.

I just spent 13 days in South Africa and Swaziland as part of a film crew shooting a documentary on AIDS. So, we weren't on safari and we didn't have much time for sight-seeing at all, but here's my thoughts and experiences nonetheless.

First off, I flew a longer than needed route, but I didn't mind it one bit. I flew LAX to Detroit to Amsterdam to Joberg. It took nearly 30 hours, but KLM was great, and I had aisle seats the whole way, and from AMS to JNB (10hr 40min) I had seat 35H (on a 747-400) which I highly recommend.

We flew into Joberg, and because of the rest of the crew being delayed, I spent 2 nights at the Holiday Inn JNB. I was in Joberg for a total of about 40 hours on the whole trip, but saw barely more than the airport, the Holiday Inn, and some sights along the highway. I woke up my first morning after arriving at night, and looked out my window without my glasses. I knew I wasn't close to downtown, but thought I saw the shapes of skyscrapers in the distance. I put on my glasses and realized it was a nuclear power plant, which was a bit of a surprise.

The next day on our drive to Swaziland we passed 5 or 6 more. We rented a Kia Pregio from EuropCar, and it lacked much power, so our drive to Mbabane took 5 hours, including a couple brief stops to grab footage along the way. The drive didn't feel like Africa much. It is hard to describe. It was a holiday, so I think there were fewer people out and about (on foot, I mean). One of the images I will always have of my first trip to Africa is the people walking along the road for miles with water, grain, or goods. Particularly, in Swaziland, I'll always remember the pedestrian bridges over the highways in and between Mbabane and Manzini. The drive from Joberg to Swaziland isn't too exciting. Once we got closer to Swaziland, it got a bit more mountainous, and there are some really scenic views, especially around sunset, that we saw in Swaziland.

We stayed at the Mountain Inn in Mbabane from May 1 to May 11. (www.mountaininn.sz) We had a special deal that was incredibly affordable. $50 a day for lodging and breakfast. The people there were wonderful, and the location was very nice (with a Mountain View). The Tum's George Hotel in Manzini seems a bit more fancy and newer, but it is in the middle of town. I guess not so surprisingly, we saw 3-4 KFCs in Swaziland and some advertisements, sadly, had ClearChannel on them. I was ashamed our US corporate culture had already made such an imprint.

We spent the first couple days doing interviews, which allowed us to see things tourists don't usually get to see. We were invited in people's homes and got to meet "locals" and discuss Swazi culture, HIV/AIDS, and the future of the country.

On our third day we drove north to Bulembu, an old mining town on the border with South Africa that used to be home to about 10,000 people. It is up in the mountains, and is very scenic. It felt like places in the states. People kept on saying at various points in the whole trip how things looked like parts of Montana or Washington. The (asbestos) mine closed for good in 2001, and there are various projects going on in the town, which is now down to about 200 people. Hundreds of empty houses and buildings fill the little valley. Some are being used as homes for orphans with foster parents. There is another man who hopes to rejuvenate the town into a tourist area full of cabins and guest homes and artisans. There is a game park nearby. The area is covered with forests being managed for the timber industry. There is definitely potential there, if it is done the right way. On our first trip there, we were just in and out. It was a few days later that we learned more about Bulembu and spent more time there.

I'll continue with our fifth day onward soon...
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May 20th, 2005, 04:50 PM
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Thanks for the report! I too just returned from my first trip to Africa and it wasn't your typical safari/tourist trip either (my report is under Karen's trip just a few threads down from yours). As part of my master's degree program, I did a presentation on South Africa's nuclear power program. There are two small research reactors at Pelindaba (west of Pretoria), and a commercial facility at Koeberg (near Cape Town). Those are all the nuclear power plants currently in existence South Africa - according to my fairly extensive research. So I don't think that what you saw were nuclear power plants - at least not ones that are operational. (South Africa, by the way, is in the process of expanding its nuclear power facilities and plans on building a new typ of reactor - called a Pebble Bed Modular Reactor - at Koeberg.
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May 20th, 2005, 06:26 PM
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Thanks for your thoughts so far. Not too many reports on Swaziland. Looking forward to the rest of your trip.
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May 21st, 2005, 07:22 AM
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Those are cooling towers. Cooling towers are used at conventional and nuclear plants.
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May 25th, 2005, 11:51 AM
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thanks for the information about the plants. i would rather be corrected than spread misinformation. they sure were a strange and erie sight. and definitely active.

also, i have pictures from the trip, and pictures from my honeymoon in tahiti/bora bora/moorea from october at my website:
www.fingerprintfilms.com

sorry, i'll continue the trip report soon i hope.
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Jun 2nd, 2005, 02:19 PM
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before continuing, a couple things i forgot: on our third day, we stopped at a clinic that had a staff of no more than a dozen nurses and 1 doctor. there were hundreds of patients lined up waiting for care. most were woman and children or older men. it isn't like you can tell if somebody is HIV+ or what they're there for, but with a 42% HIV infection rate in Swaziland, we had to assume that most people were there for HIV treatment or for related symptoms. while there, we met a young man who was there to get tested for HIV, but claimed he didn't know anybody who was HIV+. there is a lot of denial. another man asked me if we had a cure back in the states. sadly there are people that think we are hiding a cure. we next stopped at a place where an old man and several woman are running a "care point" where local kids can come during the day for food and a chance to learn. they sit under a tree and teach and get a meal. there were about 50 kids there, many had lost their parents and were living with aunts or uncles, but were treated like 2nd class family members.

we continued the next couple days with more interviews, and then on our 5th and 6th days, i had my favorite experience of the whole trip.

we went to Bulembu, mentioned above, and had lunch with a big group at the Bulembu Lodge, a nice little place with a few quaint but cozy rooms and a very friendly atmosphere. three of us were assigned to visit a home there in Bulembu where an older couple had adopted 20 kids from throughout Swaziland. many came from a squatters camp near Big Bend. we spent time filming the kids in their daily activities, and we got to take still photos as well and they played tag and sang for us and were wonderful to be around. they spoke wondeful English and it was really easy to bond with them. that night, we stayed at the Bulembu Lodge. the electricity was out, so they were using a generator. otherwise, the town was pitch black. i was by the car getting some things and had just shut the car door and heard fast movement through the woods just below me and was startled, so i turned around, adjusted my eyes a bit and realized it was a long line of cattle running down the road and jumping a brick wall into the woods. the town has a lot of empty buildings, and it was sort of fun when i got to go into the old mine office in the dark with a flashlight to find some old photos and maps. the next morning we got up early and drove around to see the various sites/sights of Bulembu while the sun was still low in the sky. there are so many empty houses and 3 schools and tons of other buildings. then, we began picking up the kids from the house from the previous day and we'd pile 4 or 5 of them in the back of the car at once and go film portraits of them in various locations around Bulembu. it was a lot of fun to see the kids again. one boy even made me a drawing that is my most meaningful souvenir. we had to leave Bulembu around noon, so it was a quick trip, but very worth it and memorable.

more to come...sorry, i'm slow.
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Jun 3rd, 2005, 04:51 AM
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Don't worry about speed. It's great that you're posting your report!
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Jun 3rd, 2005, 08:24 AM
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Yes, it's great!
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