The Multitudes Brought Hither

The Multitudes Brought Hither

People join the Peace Corps because they want to travel, they say. That was one of my motivations, definitely, but it seemed more possible before I arrived and learned about the remoteness of our site placements, the unpredictability of the taxi (mini-bus) schedules, and the expense of constantly relying on public transportation in lieu of personal vehicles.

It was starting to look like my traveling options, inside the country or out of it, would be limited to a couple weeks of vacation scattered around school holidays. Besides that, I imagined myself settling down in a rural mountain village, relying on local relationships and web browsing for entertainment.

Little did I realize how many amazing opportunities there are within a day’s ride from my front door!

My fellow volunteers and I kicked off our service with a birthday celebration at a splendid waterside hotel. Built into the hillside, the lodge’s dining area overlooks a glassy green dam.

Indulging my penchant for surprising my taste buds, I searched the menu until I hit on something unrecognizable: “kingklip.” The mystery dish turned out to be a tasty white fish with a shockingly knobbly spine. They served it alongside a familiar favorite: “chips” – British-style chips, that is, what Americans would call French fries. 

Once we had feasted, we strolled down to the water’s edge for a sunset river cruise. The crew served salty, lip-smacking finger food: peanuts, chips, and Biltong jerky (another item to cross off my South Africa bucket list!).

It was hard not to miss family and friends as we drifted dreamily along. The experience tops my list of moments that made me wish I could teleport my loved ones here to enjoy it with me.

I stared out at the water, idly guessing at the grazing animals we passed (“are those goats?” “no, cows!”), waiting for the sun to hit that perfect angle for photo-taking magic. 

True to South African culture, it wasn’t long before someone hooked up her MP3 to the ship’s sound system. Three ladies gave an impromptu dancing lesson, and we cruised back into port with our arms waving and feet flying.

Unfortunately, the taxi rank had closed by the time our tour concluded. Our volunteer leader Kolbi graciously invited us to spend the night at her place, a lovely apartment enclosed in a verdant garden. She hosted us in style, with fried rice for a late-night snack and pancakes with apple butter and powdered sugar for breakfast.

It was a miniature holiday: We reminisced over a Disney movie, wooed her cat, and exulted in the unspeakable luxury of a sink with running water. At home, I haul water in a bucket (but I’m fortunate that my family has a tap in the yard), boil it in my kettle (not to mention electricity!), and pour out the used water on the grass. Washing dishes is a privilege, not a chore, when there are two faucets and a built-in drain.

Home sweet home after a night away!

A few days later, another volunteer invited me to visit her site. It takes only 30-40 minutes to drive there–but what a harrowing drive it is, with construction narrowing the road to a single lane. There were moments when I would look out the window at the treetops waving merrily under my nose, separated from the edge by nothing but a strip of metal guard rails and my driver’s sense of self-preservation.

Switchback highways in Ecuador, screaming taxi rides in Peru–nothing has fazed me like the ride up that mountain. I yanked my head back and muttered the Lord’s Prayer to myself, over and over, until the panic subsided.

First stop: a monthly roadside market offering everything from secondhand swimsuits to grilled chicken feet for purchase

My friend introduced me to Fancy Stitch, a local non-profit. At the time, I hadn’t realized it belonged to a network of Christian ministries in the area, but still I could admire the elegant window frames and lovingly painted Bible verses daubed on its front gate.

Inside, a gallery features embroidered bookmarks, greeting cards, and fridge magnets.  Besides employing local people in sewing handicrafts, Fancy Stitch tempts visitors with a charming restaurant and cakes baked on site.

To round off the visit, we dropped by Keiko’s home: nestled among lush green peaks, overlooking a valley. There’s a banana tree in her backyard and a neighbor with peacocks!

Keiko basically lives in Tarzan’s jungle

Between the city luxuries a taxi trip away, and the natural beauty of our assigned sites, I thought I had exhausted the local area’s options for sightseeing.

Not even close! If you have the smallest inclination to visit me, here’s a peek at a nearby lodge:

Swimming pools, trampolines, and a menu bursting with fresh, delicious food – what more could you ask for? There’s a new adventure, another beauty, around every corner.

 

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