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Stephanie's Blog

Linked to South Africa

Monday, June 8, 2009

The adventures of today began with a continental breakfast at the hotel. Half of us were in our discovery t-shirts for picture opportunities. Due to the length in which we wore our shirts during travel, I had to wash mine in the sink at the hotel. The Johannesburg weather was brisk with a chilly breeze spreading through the air. The wintery weather was evident because all the trees were bare, having nothing but branches. This is because of the lack of rain these trees receive. Most people associate cold weather with bare trees, but this is not the case. In Cape Town the trees were full of leaves due to the rain there.
From the hotel we went to see the Sterkfontein Cave. There we also went into a museum that explained how caves are formed. This is when acidic rain decomposes the rock it lands on creating a gaping hole and over time that hole gets bigger. The Sterkfontein Cave is the sight where "Little Foot" and Mrs. Ples were found, showing human adaptation and evolution. Mrs. Ples was found first at this site. Many scientists now believe that she is actually a he and should be named Mr. Ples, based on the curvature of the jaw. This cave was used for mining limestone and therefore parts of the mine were blasted out. After this happened a piece of tibia was found. In 1992, a scientist then went into the cave and looked for 2 days until he came across a piece of bone that seemed to fit with the tibia piece. He knew where to look because most of these fossils were found in rock called breccia. Breccia is made of sediment soil. From there most of the body was found and thought to be an ancestor of humans. We were able to see the spot in which "Little Foot" was found and how it had gotten in there and died. We saw the opening where "Little Foot" must have fallen through from outside. The hole was hidden by all the shrubbery. Walking through the Sterkfontein Cave made me realize how close I was to my ancestors. The cave was big and at its lowest point 60 meters from the surface. Inside the cave we were able to see stag mites and stag tights. The walls of the cave were beautiful covered in spider like cracks. At one part of the tour the guide turned the lights out and the cave got pitch black. I couldn’t even see me hand that was touching my nose. Some parts of the cave were hard to maneuver through. Along the way we also saw a bat in a small hole in the ceiling rock. Rocks hung from all over the place and I was terrified that the whole cave would fall on me. I thought it was a miracle how two skeletons that link to ancestry past could be found in a gentlemen’s backyard. This World Heritage center is one that is essential to preserve.
Driving out of Sterkfontein Cave we drove through a reserve of animals. There we spotted lots of rhino and antelope in their natural habitat. As we approached, the antelope sprung from where they were grazing and ran. Eventually we parked and hiked across a field of grasses, some of which looked like ones found in the United States, to go to an archeological sight. Upon arrival we got some African cake, bread slices, and fruit. While eating the food we listened to a presentation by Collin Mentor, an anthro-paleontologist that worked on dating fossils from millions of year ago. Dr. Mentor explained the processes he used in his studying and some information about the evolution of humans. He explained how the DNA in humans is 99% the same as in chimpanzees, and gorillas are only 98%. During the presentation Dr. Mentor showed us some of the artifacts that he had dug up. One of the artifacts he showed us was in the same family as humans and had a rather large jaw and teeth that were wide and flattened. He explained how that jaw belonged to something that ate grass, due to the size of the jaw and structure of the teeth. This surprised me because I didn’t really know how scientists came up with these statements. Another statement that amazed me about Dr. Mentor was when he took out a tooth that he had put in a bag. He held up the tooth, looked at it for about 5 seconds and said, "This is the tooth of a female baboon." I was shocked, to say the least, and immediately my hand went up wanting to know how he knew this. He explained that baboons have rather long teeth especially past the root. He explained that he knew it was a female because of the total length of the tooth. Male baboons have longer teeth for fighting reasons than females do. From the presentation we went to see where he dug. In the rocks around the digging sight we could see fossilized tusks of elephants and baboon skulls. The area in which he dug was extremely rich in fossils. The coordinates of the earth were also marked out so when he dug something up he recorded what he found and exactly where he found it. Dr. Mentor said that he was probably going to dig in that sight for 15-20 more years. Wow, that guy must have a lot of patience. Just when we were about to start digging the rain began to pour, ending our opportunity way to fast. Even if we didn’t get to dig, the experience was awesome due to the amount of information I learned.
Since our experience at the archeological sight was shortened we had more time on our hands than normally predicted. With that time we took a quick trip to the local Camilleon Village. The experience there is one that will never be forgotten. As soon as I stepped off the bus I was swarmed with people saying, "Sister, why don’t you come see what I made?" or "What is your name? Where are you from?" They would shake my hand and while doing so they would pull me into their little shop. Eventually I just had to say, "I don’t want to look!" Then I would just walk away. The venders were so crazy that I felt the need to stay in a big group. When I found something I liked I put my bargaining skills to the test and sometimes I would get myself far, others I would end up 5 rands cheaper, not worth it. The venders would all say they had hand crafted their item and make up unbelievable stories about what has happened to them just to make you want to buy the items they sold. When I was waiting on the bus there was even a man who came on for one of the other people that had bought from someone else and asked him if he wanted to buy something. To say the least the venders were desperate but I guess that was their way of life and a man has to do what a man has to do. If I am having a bad day in the future, I will go to the village market and then I will feel wanted and popular.
From the cultural village experience we went to an even more cultural place of African tribe simulations, the cradle of mankind. There we visited tribes of Zulu, Bashoto, Xhosa, and Pedi. At one of the tribes we had the chance to taste grubs. Something I never plan to eat again. It wasn’t that they tasted all that bad it was just the fact that I was eating insects that had me grossed out. In another one of the tribes I tried to communicate with the children there. They obviously didn’t speak English. When the child went to the parent to talk the parent said, "Shhhh!" and put their finger on their lips. So when I went to try to communicate with the child again the child repeated what their parent had done. A classic child move. Once finished visiting the tribes we went to a ceremonial dance. The dance was fun and everyone was able to get involved. The whole ceremony was in different languages, so I had no idea what was going on. After the ceremony was over we had African dinner. For the first time, I had the chance to try crocodile meat and ostrich soup, neither of which were all that bad. The rest of the meal was also good, especially the vegetables. Gathered around the table the group bonded laughing quite a bit, most likely because how tired we were.
Tonight we worked on games to play with the orphans we are spending time with tomorrow. I know that all the effort and fun in learning the game will pay off tomorrow when I experience even more life changing events and people.


Liz said...

Love your descriptions of the people and places you are experiencing. You are learning so much about the history, culture and ecology of South Africa. Knowing your passion for children, I am certain you are looking forward to the time you will spend at the orphanage. Sounds like you are getting some good bargaining experience in when the opportunities present themselves.

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Essential Programs Details

Duration 12 days
When June 2nd - 13th, 2009
Focus Wildlife Research/Conservation
Political History