I have been a bit lazy and it's been a few weeks since I last wrote, so here's the latest! To pick up where I left off, we celebrated Gus's birthday with a night worthy of a 21st. We became I believe the first people to try every shot on the menu at our backpackers in an evening - 15 including the Springbok, Bob Marley, Surfer on Acid, Urine Sample and Bushman's balls to name a few. Thereafter things become a little hazy, however apparently we made it out briefly before I found a comfy corner to pass out in the girls bathroom (clearly not well signed :p) while Gus somehow managed to find his way back to our room where I eventually ended up as well. As I said, worthy of a 21st.
We had been given the following day off from volunteering in light of the birthday celebrations and also as we had picked up tickets to the Brazil v Holland quarter final! There are a lot of Dutch expats in SA including the wife of our volunteer coordinator and so, we got kitted up in orange and headed into Port Elizabeth. The new stadium there looks quite spectacular nestled on the harbour and it provided for an electric atmosphere. The first half saw Brazil dominate and their fans were going nuts as they took the lead into halftime. However Holland looked a different team in the second half and pulled off an awesome victory sending the Dutch fans (that's us :p) wild and the Brazilians to tears. It was an awesome game to cap off our world cup experience.
The rest of the weekend was spent relaxing around the beach before it was time to say farewell to Gus. As he had an early flight and had to catch a taxi at 4am we just had a few quiet drinks at Island Vibe (a backpackers on the sand dunes with an awesome view over the bay) before seeing him off, leaving me on my own for the first time on the trip. The next day it was back to the foster home with another volunteer who had arrived that day. There were also a couple of other Aussies there from another organisation and so we decided to take the kids for a trip to the beach. They loved it, running around in the surf, burying each other in the sand and playing a bit of beach soccer.
The rest of the week was split between the foster home and finishing off the playground at the preschool - repainting it as well. We took them back to the beach several times and also down to the Supertubes surf break where some of the pros were warming up for the billabong tournament. I also met a lot of people from all over the place as they came and went at the backpackers. It was particularly interesting having a few drinks with an Israeli guy and talking to him about his military service, the whole Gaza mess and their side of the story etc. We also watched the rest of the world cup games on the big screen in a café in town. We cheered Holland all the way but it was at least good to see a new team win.
In my last week in Jeffrey's, school was back in so we headed to the preschool to see how we could help out. Unfortunately there was little structure to the day there and the kids were basically just running around outside while the teachers sat inside rarely even watching them. So we just kicked the ball with them, pushed them on the swings, picked up the ones that got knocked over etc. It was hard to organise activities as there are so many of them and they range in age from about 2 - 6 so it is more of a childcare facility than anything. I took a few of the quieter ones in and read some books, did some puzzles etc. but it was hard not to get mobbed every time you sat down. Some were much needier for attention than others and would not let go of you all day. I also visited the foster home a couple of times and helped with a few things including a flooded basement after a drain had blocked up. I gave them some books and writing materials I had brought which I think were much appreciated.
On the last weekend I decided it was time to finally try my hand at surfing after an offer of some free lessons from the girl who was volunteering with me. Kind of ironic an Aussie learning to surf from an American in Africa but what can you do? So after hiring a board and wetsuit we headed out. It didn't go too badly as I got up a few times after the first half hour or so but unfortunately I had injured my elbow a bit throwing kids around at the preschool which hampered my paddling ability somewhat. Definitely something I want to try again in the future though. We also got the chance to see how it's done as the Billabong pro started, watching a few heats as they carved up one of the best breaks in the world, they make it look easy. The town was packed for the event with standing room only in all the bars and clubs. It was also the first anniversary of our backpackers on my last night so a fitting party was had to say farewell to Africa. It was an amazing two and a half months and something I think everyone should experience in their lifetime. You can hear all the clichés about it being a continent of vast contrasts - from rich to poor, natural beauty to human suffering - but it really has to be seen to be believed.
In any case, any regrets in leaving Africa were soon dampened by the thought of being back in Europe. I arrived in Frankfurt on Sunday morning after minimal sleep and was greeted by German friend Matthias, who played soccer with us in oz, and his brother Michael. After breakfast at his place we explored Frankfurt for the day. We got ourselves a traditional Turkish/German doner kebab and pilsner, joining thousands of others out enjoying the sunshine along the river. It was nice to just walk around the city, not having to worry about whether this or that area was safe to go as in South Africa. After a couple more drinks and a meal courtesy of Michael's girlfriend it was time for an early night as a bit of jet lag got the better of me. The next day I said farewell as my hosts all headed off to work and I was picked up by our family friends Annie and Herman who I had also stayed with last time I was in Frankfurt. After brunch at their place, Annie and I went to check out the Kopewelten (Body World) exhibition which is permanently set up near Frankfurt. For those of you who haven't heard of it, it is an exhibition of variously dissected and posed human bodies preserved via a unique plastination process invented by a German guy. It is now actually the most viewed exhibition in history and was very very interesting. In the evening we went to a traditional German restaurant where I had for entrée - Handkase mit Musik (Hand cheese with music) - the music being the eventual result of the onions that come with it :P, and pork knuckle with sauerkraut.
The next day I was back on a plane up to Hamburg to visit Fabian. After meeting him at the airport he showed me the apartment where he now lives in Hamburg before we went for a tour around the city. I hired a bike and we rode all the way along the river before deciding to jump on a ferry to the other side. This turned out not to be the best idea as it was the last ferry back for the day, however undeterred we set off to ride back the long way. Unfortunately this plan didn't last long either as Fabian's bike chain snapped. So, we eventually found a bus and raced home to get ready as Fabs girlfriend, Neele, had invited us for dinner. We got there better late than never and enjoyed a lovely dinner courtesy of her flatmate, who also happened to be studying medicine so it was interesting to find out how that works in Germany. After leaving them to do some study, Fabs and I had a couple of drinks at a local bar before heading home.
The next day we headed out to a cable waterskiing/wakeboarding park. This was the first time I had tried it so I opted for the skis. It took a few goes but by the end of the two hours I could stay up pretty well although I still had some fairly spectacular stacks. The wakeboarding world champion apparently trains at the same park and it was also cool to watch some of the better guys do their thing. After that we headed straight to the airport where we met Latham (a friend from Boonah for those who don't know) who had flown in from the UK. We spent the evening walking around Hamburg, enjoying a few beers along the harbour. We then introduced Latham to a bit of European culture at the Reeperbahn, the party/red light district. We ran the gauntlet along the 'Men's only street' where the ladies of the night do their best to convince you to give them some business. With our wallets and belts still intact we rocked out for a while in an alternative bar before heading home.
The next day we were invited to one of Fabian's friends for a barbecque. She had been in Canada for a year and was about to head back over so also spoke very good English and had a very nice apartment. From there Neele drove us all out to Luneburg/Wendisch Evern to see Fabs family. After saying hello, we went out for a tour of Luneburg by night, sampling the famous 1L stein of Meltzer beer which is brewed on site and going on a small pub crawl finishing with some midnight pizza. The next day we relaxed at a spa and sauna centre which was also a bit of culture shock for Latham who thought he'd seen enough wrinkled old men (and women) naked as a nurse. We tried out the finnish sauna which sits at around 90oC as well as one at 110oC. Feeling very relaxed we headed home for an awesome barbecue before heading to a bar for a few rounds of pool.
The next morning we headed back into Hamburg to meet Matt (another Boonahite) who had also flown in from the UK. We headed off on another tour around Hamburg, together with some of Fabian's friends, sharing a few drinks on the edge of the lake. We also went to a wine fest that was going on outside the city hall, however the prices were a bit out of our budget to stay long. From there it was back to the Reeperbahn where we rocked out to some live music and danced the night away. As dawn approached we followed the crowds down to the fish markets, a hamburgian tradition, for breakfast. We also bought a large basket of fruit and I, still somewhat tipsy, decided it would be a good idea to demonstrate how one would carry said basket on one's head in Africa. Turns out this is not so easy and can end up with you and basket on the ground surrounded by fruit much to everyone's hilarity. After gathering up what we could we headed home for a late sleep.
The next day it was time to say goodbye again for now as I hopped on the train to Denmark. As luck would have it I sat next to a Danish girl studying medicine so talking about that gave me a chance to get back into the swing of speaking Danish. I was met at the end of my journey in Aalborg by Else and Per who took me back to Helle's (some of my Danish family). We had a lovely afternoon catching up with the whole family here including all the kids. The older ones are very good at English for their age and very keen to practice and the little ones are all very cute. Yesterday Jonas and Sofia (Helle's two eldest) took me on a cycle tour around Aalborg, we saw the new art gallery built in honour of Jorgen Utzon (architect of the Sydney Opera House) and went up the Aalborg tower for a view over the city. In the afternoon we all went to Faarup Sommerland, a theme park in the forest and ran around the various rollercoasters and waterslides with the kids.
That brings us to today, most of which I have spent out in the sunshine watching the kids run around and writing this. It's great to be back in Denmark and I am looking forward to getting to Skanderborg (where I lived when I was here). It has been excellent timing as the Skanderborg music festival is on while I'm there which many people come back for and I have got myself a ticket. Should be good times!
Hope this finds you well wherever you are.