School Trips


This blog entry about the events of Sunday, March 07, 2004 was originally posted on March 09, 2004.

DAY 141:  Since the age of three, I was raised in Teaneck, New Jersey, U.S.A., a proudly multi-cultural suburb of New York City.  Teaneck has some roots in the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950 and 60s — in fact, my middle school science teacher, Mrs. Lacey, was a good friend of the King family (as in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.).  When I was in the first grade, I was selected to be in a small group of students to go on a school trip to another school on the other side of town to meet Rosa Parks, the heroine of the Civil Rights Movement that refused to give up her “White Only” seat on a bus in segregated Montgomery, Alabama in 1955.

As much as it was an honor to meet Rosa Parks, I was only in the first grade and assumed that anyone spoken of in history lessons was dead, and so I didn’t even believe it was her — just an actress playing her.  I couldn’t wait to get leave that trip so I could go home and watch Josie and the Pussycats.

LEGAL SEGREGATIONS IN THE UNITED STATES ended in 1963 under the order of President John F. Kennedy, eleven years before my time.  While I appreciate the end of segregation, I was not alive for it and its struggle, and sort of took it for granted growing up with friends of many different races and creeds.

You really feel a movement when you’re alive to see it, and you really feel it when you’re in the actual country where it happened.  The end of apartheid in South Africa was only declared in 1990, when I was in high school — coincidentally the year civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson took a trip to our school to do a speech.  (I was a bit more attentive that time.)

The stories of apartheid, its end and its aftermath are best explained with “Sam’s Township Tour,” a popular half-day look into the lives of the people affected by apartheid and their futures.  Some people don’t like the idea of such a tour — Why would I pay money to look at poor people? — but most highly recommend it; in fact, Lonely Planet called it “the most knowledgeable and informative tour.”  Besides, part of that that money used “to look at poor people” actually goes to their benefit.

Including myself, there was a group of six of us from the hostel picked up in a minivan not by Sam, but his associate Albert that conducted the tour.  Like a school field trip, we started things off at a museum, the District Six Museum.

Founded in 1994, the District Six Museum was created to preserve the memories of District Six, a once vibrant sector of Cape Town in the late 19th century inhabited by merchants, freed slaves, artists and musicians, all with an eclectic blend of culture, food and jazz.  However, starting in 1901, these people were forcibly removed from the area — but not without resistance — until 1966, when the area was officially declared a “whites only” area.  On February 11, 1966, bulldozers arrived and demolished all the houses to make way for a new white suburb, forcing its residents out into the slums, or “townships,” outside of town.  It wasn’t until the end of apartheid in 1990 that the surviving original residents of District Six were allowed back to their former home.  Land was given back freely to those who had claims.

The museum was a genuinely fascinating place, with photographs, anecdotes and paraphernalia from District Six’s golden age.  A duo played old jazz standards in the corner as I wandered the two-level building with its reconstruction of a typical apartment in the past, artifacts from the age of apartheid and a continually-stitched hope cloth with messages from the residents eager to return.  The most noticable exhibit in the museum was a tower made up of the original street signs, which the bulldozer operator saved for all the years, hoping that one day freedom would prevail and that they’d be worth something.

THE DISTRICT SIX MUSEUM WAS JUST THE STARTING POINT of the tour to give prerequisite to the next destination: Langa, one of the townships that the blacks were forced into the Day the Bulldozers Came.  Langa, like the other townships in the area, was still in its gradually rebuilding phase, a rebuilding of thought.  A trip to the Tsoga Environmental Research Center showed us how the people were learning to use their resources for the environment with recycling and community gardening.

The rebuilding of the township also involved the actual rebuilding of houses.  Albert took us to an area not completely revived; some buildings were still in their conditions of the old days and residents still lived there awaiting their house makeover.  We were taken to a hostel where whole families shared tiny rooms near a communal kitchen and bathroom.  It was in fact awkward to walk in on people’s lives in poverty, but Albert explained that they all knew of the tour and that it was just business that benefited them.  It was permitted to take photos of anyone or anything as long as their door was open as an invitation.

Down the dirt path from the hostel, passed people going about their daily chores, Albert brought us to the local pub, or social club, inside a little shack with a tin roof and a dirt floor.  The members of the social club made room for us and sat in on Albert’s explanation of the umgombothi they all drank (to pronounce it, you have to make a clucking noise with your tongue on the first syllable), a foamy milk-looking drink made from fermented maize and wheat.  With a taste of a sweet light beer, it was to be consumed out of a shared tin bucket, which was passed around to all of us, giving the townsmen an opportunity to observe us for a change.  They all thought I was with the two Japanese guys until I spoke American English, making me look like I was with Alex, an American from Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts and John from Bridgewater, New Jersey.  Although John didn’t go to Rutgers, New Jersey’s state university, he knew of the locally-famous “grease trucks” that served greasy sandwiches for those hungry times after a night of drinking.  Grease trucks might have been handy in Langa’s social club because after our sips of umgombothi, the bucket was passed over to the usual barflies who all drank nice, big hearty portions.

Passing the newly rebuilt houses, we stopped off at the local herbalist, Ndaba, who only put on traditional garb for tourist photos.  He traditionally cured patients with natural plant derivatives and potions sometimes made with animal hides donated from the university after research, but ran out of medicine for my nasal congestion.  The herbalist was the last stop showing us the current state of affairs in Langa — things would be looking up for them soon.  I mean, they already had cell phone stores set up.

THE FUTURE OF THE TOWNSHIPS was seen in the township of Khayelitsha, home of the Masikhule Home Creche.  “Masikhule” means “let us grow” and it was the appropriate name for the kindergarten school inside.  About thirty kids peeked out the window when our minivan showed up, and they were absolutely ecstatic when we came inside.  The six of us were assaulted by the cute little kids, jumping at us and pulling our arms for attention.  Boys and girls greeted us with smiling faces and I never felt so welcome for just being a stranger, whether or not they thought I was Japanese or not.  Some kids were fascinated by my little digital spy camera and loved seeing themselves on the little screen right afterwards.  And everyone absolutely loved us when we picked him/her up in the air above our heads — except for the shy little boy in the corner (picture above).

The last stop of the tour was the Philani Nutrition Center, which aimed to nourish the community through craft-making.  Women wove tapestries and carpets for sale in town or at their in-house store.  While the women worked, their children played outside in a day care center and as soon as I walked over by myself, every kid jumped (literally) at the opportunity to hang off my arm. 

The trip ended there and Albert brought us back to our hostel in the city.  We arrived with a new understanding of the people’s lives in the area, their struggle and their schools full of cute, arm-pulling children.

TAKING THE SUGGESTION OF BLOGREADER AFREEKACHIK I had a quick lunch at Nando’s, the Portuguese-themed rotisserie chicken chain found all over Cape Town that prided themselves on peri-peri sauce derived from African chili peppers “discovered” by Portuguese explorers.  After lunch, I took the suggestion of Blogreader Rob by taking a trip to a different type of school other than the one I had been to that morning.

“Excuse me, can you tell me where the harbormaster’s office is?” I asked a woman at the waterfront who was looking quite bored at her information booth near her boat.  She waved over to a sailor on the ship to find out, but he was busy fixing something.

“Actually maybe you can help me,” I said.  “I’m looking for the Picton Castle.”

“Oh, I saw the Picton this morning,” she answered.  “It’s over the walking bridge over there, towards the Cape Grace hotel.”


The Picton Castle wasn’t a castle, but a ship:  a big trawler built in Wales in 1928 originally as a fishing vessel, but ended up serving as a minesweeper in World War II for the British Royal Navy.  In the early 1990s it was converted to a square-rigger, having spent some years at New York City’s South Street Seaport, but was transformed into a unique sailing school for aspiring sailors in 1996.  For a fee, anyone can join the ship’s crew to learn the trade of old-fashioned sailing, as they journey around the world over the course of a year.

The gangway gate was open and I just walked on board, not realizing it wasn’t exactly open for public tours.  A woman stopped me — she turned out to be one of the ship’s officers.

“How did you hear about us?”

“I got an email from someone who said the ship was in Cape Town and that I should check it out,” I answered.

“What’s his name?”

“Rob.  I don’t know his last name, but—”

“Oh, Rob!  Hey Paulina, this is Erik, he knows Rob.  He said that he should come over and check the ship out.  Would you mind showing him around?”


Paulina, one of the students of the ship, was the Bermudan mother of a 19-year-old son who had also served on the ship as a trainee.  She was on her year-long “semester at sea” to learn the ropes (literally) of sailing along with twenty-seven other students from around the world — most from Canada.  The Picton Castle embarks from Nova Scotia, Canada every year with twelve professionals a new class, although some students just do a three-month stint in between two major ports.  The sailing school was docked in Cape Town after a voyage from Madagascar, and was to be in town for two weeks for repairs and maintenance.

Paulina took me around the vintage sailing vessel and I interviewed her like a travel show host without a cameraman, from the living quarters to the galley, which still had its original stove, to the helm where the captain steered the ship in accordance with the behaviors of the winds and the waves.  I was introduced to a few of the students and some officers, but they were all too busy working on the ship for a chat; even docked in harbor, the responsibilities of a sailor don’t end.  Responsibilities are an important thing on the sea; each student eventually finds a nitch with their individual talents and is assigned that task — Paulina was a sailmaker.

My private tour was brief but very eye-opening.  It has always been a dream of mine and many others to “just sail around the world” and learn the art of sailing — the Picton Castle program made that all a reality.  As much as I wanted to sail the seven seas like a pirate with them, I figured one trip around the world at a time.

THE REST OF THE DAY I just chilled out at the waterfront, watching the free jazz performance on the docks.  That night I just hung around the hostel where John, my New Jersey “friend for the day” (if you’ve noticed, people come and go quickly) was getting his things ready since he was leaving the next morning.

“Good luck on your world trip,” he wished me.

“Thanks.  I’ll see you at the grease trucks.”

“Yeah, at like three thirty, four in the morning.”

Greasy after-drink sandwiches weren’t needed that night; the bar was surprisingly empty and everyone in my dorm room was in bed by ten.  Perhaps they figured, like the students of Masikhule Home Creche and the Picton Castle, it was a school night.

Yearning to quit your job and just “sail around the world?”  Check out the Picton Castle’s website at:

Next entry: The Ride of Good Hope

Previous entry: Just Relax

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Comments for “School Trips”

  • Another great history lesson, thanks…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/09  at  09:21 AM

  • First!!!!  Those kids are SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO cute!!

    Posted by Liz  on  03/09  at  09:30 AM

  • oh man, markyt beat me :(

    Posted by Liz  on  03/09  at  09:31 AM

  • man .. you knew who Rosa Parks was at that age? ... I knew “Starblazers!!!” We’re off to outerspace ...

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/09  at  10:18 AM

  • I really enjoyed the history lesson and tour. You picture under “some kids” is really beautiful. It is a real nice of piece of art work.
    I hadn’t been reading for a while, but I am back on track now. Keep up the good work! I will send a donation to your trip.

    Posted by cathy demarco  on  03/09  at  10:56 AM

  • awww, those little kids are adorable!!! they are so cute when they belong to other people. =)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/09  at  11:53 AM

  • What a GREAT post!  Africa looks beautiful and interesting.  I love history tours like that.  It reminds me, a tiny bit -  I’m not sure why, of the Anne Frank house tour.  And I love that you all got to taste that wierd beer.

    And the beach pictures yesterday were beautiful.  Not being a guy, I didn’t need the topless chick to enjoy them!  haha!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/09  at  12:10 PM

  • Erik,

    I was so impressed with your movie upon opening this blog.  Really inspiring!  I would love to know how I could get my hands on that music, by the way!  I look forward to having a chance to read some of your entries in depth.  Kudos to you.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/09  at  01:02 PM

  • CATHY DEMARCO:  How’s that for a history lesson for your class?

    Thanks for the praise!  When you send a donation, please email me (at my Yahoo account) your postal address so I can send you a postcard.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/09  at  03:30 PM

  • SIM:  Don’t forget G-Force!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/09  at  03:31 PM

  • MICHELE:  Hey there… thanks for the kudos.  Are you a new comment poster?  (I can’t remember.)  If so, welcome!  If not, welcome back!

    The music from my slideshow is “Nara” by E.S. Posthumus.  I’ve written an entry about it in Pre-Departure:

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/09  at  03:34 PM

  • Erik: 

    Yes, I’m new.  I read an old post in BootsnAll chit-chat where LiveNomadic posted the link. 

    I just showed it to a co-worker and now she wants the link, she was so inspired.  She want the link to your site, too, so you might be hearing from her! 

    Really inspiring and beautiful.  Before I ask any questions, I probably should read some of your entries! 

    Safe journeys,

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/09  at  04:28 PM

  • MICHELE:  Well then, welcome to The Fellowship of The Blog.  Glad you’re inspired… pass the word along!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/09  at  04:32 PM

  • Hey erik!! Man am I jealous that you are in Cape Town.  Please, you have to leave the BackPack for a few days and go stay at Ashanti.  It is sooooo much fun there. And it’s more of an old mansion than an apartment style palce like Backpack.  SO MUCH FUN!!!  If the guys sitting by the pool quoting Scarface are still there, tell them I say hello!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/09  at  04:55 PM

  • History was my favorite subject in high school.  I love this one. very informative.  keep up the good work.

    love you..

    take care & God bless…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/09  at  07:00 PM

  • Hey Erik,
    Great history lesson!!  The pictures of the children are priceless,  they were great, especially the one with the little boy with his arms around the litttle girl and the one with the the 4 kids in front of the fence.  Just great!!! 
    Also, seeing the way those people live, makes you realize how fortunate we are and how much we take forgranted!! I’m sure even more so for you being there and seeing it in person.  Thanks for putting things in perspective!!!!!!  Keep up the Great Work!!


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/09  at  11:09 PM

  • Hi Erik

    Glad the crew on the boat showed you around.  I hope you enjoyed it, and who knows maybe one take you can take off again and sail around the world this time.


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/10  at  12:26 AM

  • ROB:  Oh, so you ARE the same Rob they spoke of!  Thanks for the ice-breaker!

    Did you sail a full year?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/10  at  05:59 AM

  • As heard in 1990 in the THS Gymnasium… after an unfortunate incident that occurred 3 blocks away from my house on the very same the night my bike was stolen from my backyard. 

    “I am somebody.
    Respect me. Protect me. Never negate me…
    My mind is a pearl. I can learn anything in the world.”

    “Up with hope, down with dope.”

    Funny the things we remember that have an impression on us, like the frenchmen that chanted Run Jessie Run at my group in 1988 in the South of France.  I guess it was easy to pick out the obnoxious kids as Americans.  ... Jessie’s still using that same speech 14 years on, whaddup wit dat?

    ERIK: That’s about 8 blocks from the RINK.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/10  at  07:15 PM

  • Alas, I am not the same Rob.

    I had a friend who crewed on the Picton in 2000 and I knew through him and from keeping up with the tales of the ship that they would probably welcome you on board for a visit. 

    I have been trying to decide after a couple of halfway around the world trips if I would sign up for the Picton Adventure or one like yours for my next trip.  Decisions, decisions!!! 

    Oh well, I still have a couple of months of work to do before I even get to that point and my current contract runs out and once again I will be a unemployed freelance geek free to take another journey to where my heart wills.

    Talk to you soon


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/13  at  02:37 AM

  • those traveling portuguese have left their mark all over the world…. aren’t they great?...we have piri piri at home, whenever you want to visit for some portuguese shrimp…enjoying your travels….i hear they have wonderful wine in south africa…“are you drunk yet?” traveling, nancy

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/14  at  09:36 AM

  • Great post. Like everyone else has said, I love the history lesson. You’re so right about getting the skinny on something historic and important IN PERSON. History was always so “distant” to me while in school. Nothing so tangible as a field trip. You were lucky enough to be in the middle of a LIVING field trip. It puts everything in just the right perspective.  I’m catching up on your adventures for the last week, so…. keep up the great writing and photos (darn those kids are too cute!)!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/14  at  05:33 PM

  • great entry eric..

    mmm… i’m craving a fat bitch sandwich…

    take care

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/17  at  09:46 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today,, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.

Next entry:
The Ride of Good Hope

Previous entry:
Just Relax


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