Reflections and Memories: South Africa

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

The funny thing about studying abroad and I suppose travel in general, is that you treat the entire experience as if your mind and heart were an open passport; just waiting for the city and people to make their mark. Then, after returning home, looking at those stamps with a smile and fond memories rushing through you. But then, for some people, they suddenly realize one day while laying in bed or strolling through town, that this foreign city isn’t just a mysterious cool place they pointed to on a map a couple months ago. And those people they met aren’t just friends. This city, this “foreign” place, has become your home. And those friends have transformed into family. That’s what happened to me. I fell in love: with the city; with the environment; with the culture; with the people; and with a wonderful person. And I think the hardest thing I’ve experienced since returning home isn’t so much missing the place or the people or the cheap price of good quality wine (which is A LOT by the way), but more so acknowledging this feeling that my home and my heart will never truly be in the same place anymore. There will always be a part of me missing. Then, an even more daunting thought comes to mind: these are the only two places in the world I’ve really lived/travelled/known for a “substantial” amount of time in my adult life. What about the rest of the world? What do those magical places have o offer? And what then can I give in return to the people and the places that have given so much to me?

I’d love to dive into my hopeful travel plans but I know I’ve neglected to finish sharing with you all the rest of my experiences in Cape Town. In order to spare you all some time, I will bullet point some memories and leave it up to you to ask me any further lingering questions you may have.

-shark cage diving

-hiking lions head for sunset and picnics

-eating weekly sushi at Beluga

-watching sunsets with a bottle of wine over Camps bay

-seeing penguins at Boulders

-exploring kirstenbosch gardens

-shopping in the waterfront

-visiting Robben Island twice

-Viewing District 6 museum

-Having a braai and a jol at mzoli’s

-experience the townships of nyanga, langa, and mitchels plain

-going to a wedding from the township ( and meeting the bride and groom)

-clubbing on long street

-shopping on Kloof

-playing beach volleyball every weekend on Clifton and Camps

-trail running behind Rhodes memorial

-having fun at World of Birds

-Enjoying brunch at the Old Biscuit Mill

-Strawberry picking and wine tasting in Stellenbosch

-Whale watching

-Hiking crystal pools

-going on safaris in the bush in Botswana and Kruger park in South Africa

-Going on an ocean safari in Mozambique

-quadding through Praia do Tofo, Mozambique

-camping in swazliand (Seeing rhinos and listening to lions)

-Driving the Panorama route

-Looking through God’s window

-competeing nationally for beach volleyball in Kimberley and polokwane (best finish 4th place)

-kayaking down the Okavango river

-sunset cruise on the Zambezi river

-Flew over Victoria falls in a micro lite

-Hiked down to the boiling point

-felt the showers of the smoke that thunders

-Got bitten by a ridiculous amount of “mozies” (mosquitoes)

-Got hooked on Savannah dry

-basked in the cheap price of wine and other spirits

These are just some of the experiences I had while in South Africa, and while there are so many more, no list could ever properly sum up the memories I made over the past 6 months. Although I’m happy to be home with family and friends and extremely efficient and abundant wifi, South Africa has stolen my heart. Counting down the days until I come back to the Mother City. Look for my new years resolution blog in the next few days!

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Sunny days and intense rays

As yet another week whisks by here in Cape Town I can’t help but reflect on my feelings when I first arrived and my feelings now. I remember feeling frightened by high crime rates, constantly feeling as though I had to watch my back. But as time has passed and Cape Town has become more and more my home, I’ve realized that saying goodbye to this place will be heart breaking to say the least. Four months is just too short of a time frame to indulge in everything this city has to offer. But one thing that has changed for the better since I first arrived is the weather! Which brings me to my weekly update.

Last Thursday the sun came out to play and I enjoyed a beautiful two hours chatting on the Jammie steps with my back facing the sun and listening to the live music event taking place. But as I sat there basking/baking in the sun I came home to realize my entire back was covered in a heat rash. And as much as I enjoyed soaking in that heat, I had given myself a little dose of sun poisoning. If there is anything in the world that makes you miss home aka mom, it’s being sick away from home. But after some advil, a nap, and laying frozen tortillas on my back to ice it, I was able to make it to volleyball practice that evening. 

The following day was a rather productive and much needed cleaning day! Considering its spring time, my roommate and I spent ample time cleaning the room, doing loads upon loads of laundry and just getting our lives back in order. Also, dryers aren’t really a thing here. So everything has to be hung up to dry which means you have to account for the weather. Shoutout to the sun: you may have scorched my back but at least you’ll dry my clothes. 

Saturday, our exchange program headed out quite early for our West coast excursion. We drove to a Khoi San village or museum of some sort that took us around and explained the ways in which they lived off the land. After that we headed to a winery for lunch. Unfortunately the hanger set in (hunger/anger) due to the food taking an hour and half to come out. BUT, it was a beautiful area and also happens to be the place where Rocking the Daisies will take place (a music festival in October). 

Hut

Sunday I woke early to head out to Camps Bay for a glorious day spent playing beach volleyball. I made sure to apply plenty of sunscreen so I didn’t have a repeat of earlier this week. We played a TON of games and I even took a dip into the cold Atlantic. It was incredibly refreshing, but not for more than about 5 minutes max! 

Camps Bay

This Monday I had another wonderful day spent in Nyanga township working with children in an after school program called SHAWCO. Today my group took the grade 4’s to the library which is quite popular. They were a bunch of crazies on the bus ride over, running about and yelling out the windows. But when we got to the library, the settled down a bit and picked out their books. As volunteers we go around and have them read to us to check in on their reading comprehension. At the end of the day I’m always quite exhausted but I’ve started developing really wonderful relationships with the kids. It’s truly a wonderful feeling to return every week and see your students anxiously awaiting your arrival. Every week I try and bring a camera, phone or go pro to try and document my experiences with them, and my gadgets are quite the hit. All of them love posing for photos and videos. My goal is to splice together footage and show it to them on the last day. 

DCIM100GOPRO IMG_1013

Next week marks our spring break and I will be headed to Swaziland, Mozambique, and Kruger! It is a 10 day trip and I will most likely be off the grid for the majority of it. So look our for my next post in two weeks time!

A Weekend on the Water

This past week was definitely one for the books. We had a weekend of perfect weather, and when there is perfect weather in Cape Town you take advantage of it! So the first thing I did after being nominated for the ALS ice bucket challenge was pour a bucket of ice water on my head in the middle of the most populated place on campus… Jammie Plaza. Actually, I didn’t pour it on my head, I asked a nice stranger.. Good way to make friends right? 

We all headed to Stones on Wednesday and then to Claremont Thursday, so come Friday morning we were all hanging pretty hard. But after a relaxing morning listening to music and recovering we headed up to one the coolest and closest spots directly adjacent to UCT campus called the Reservoir. On the way there we stopped in an old lion’s den which used to be a zoo waaaaay back in the day. You could walk into their cages and walk out into the exhibit area. The walls were decorated with graffiti, murals, and messages. The place teemed with abandonment and although it was slightly eerie I found the place to be quite mystifying and beautiful. 

The Lion's DenLion's Den

After that we took a delightful walk to the reservoir. It was spectacular day and I couldn’t picture being anywhere else in that moment. We had to climb through little hole in the fence and cross a little bit of water, but sitting on that grassy slope with a reservoir in front, trees lining the water, and the mountain in the background was absolute bliss. I’m looking forward to days when the sun gets a bit hotter and we can take a dip! 

The Reservoir

The following day our group was off to the District 6 Museum and Robben Island. These would be my second visits at these places because I had already gone earlier when traveling with my mom. This time, we were lucky enough to have a former resident of District 6 tell us a bit about what it was like living there and they pain him and his family went through when they were forcibly removed from their homes. These homes, this community was destroyed in an effort by the Apartheid regime to create a white community in its place. New homes were never built. Now all that remains is open land and the museum itself. Currently, the government is rebuilding homes and trying to give these properties back to their original owners, but in most cases the building process is taking much longer than promised, and more often than not these former residents will not be alive to see their homes once again. 

After that we had lunch in the waterfront, shopped a bit, then boarded our boat to head to Robben Island. It was yet another gorgeous day and being out on the water was incredible. I stood at the bow, closed my eyes, and felt like I was flying. There are few better feelings than the sway of water below you, the wind playing with your hair, and the sun kissing your face. We arrived at the island and started with a walking tour through the prison that Nelson Mandella was incarcerated in for 18 years of his life before being moved to another prison. We were given a tour by a former inmate and shown the different sections in which they kept the political prisoners. We were shown the garden where Nelson Mandella hid his manuscript “A Long Walk to Freedom” before he had a fellow inmate smuggle it out of Robben Island. We were given a chance to see his cell as well. The last part consisted of a bus tour around the rest of the island. Currently the island is inhabited strictly by those who used to work or were imprisoned on Robben Island, their families, and those who work for the touring company today. The fact that former prisoners and former prison guards are able to live in harmony and peace speaks highly of their capacity to forgive and their fight and dedication for a better future. 

The following day we were headed for yet another excursion via boat, but this time it was for something a bit more “lively.” In honor of Shark week we decided that Sunday was a perfect day to go Shark Cage Diving! First we had to take a 2 hour drive out to the location which was just past Hermanus. Luckily it was quite a beautiful drive and we stopped off in Hermanus to look for whales. Once we arrived we were briefed on the trip and got on the boat. Once again, it was a beautiful day, and even though we had to wait quite some time before seeing our first shark it wasn’t so bad spending a day out on the boat. When I finally got my turn in the cage it was quite a site to see a Great White Shark swimming towards you. Despite the cage being there, I couldn’t help thinking how crazy it was that I was in the same water as the shark. But what I noticed was that these sharks commonly misconceived to be aggressive and lethal didn’t seem to be so. It was a good experience but not one I would do again. It was like holding a treat out in front of a dog and pulling it away before he could catch it. 

Shark

After an exhausting weekend, it was a bit painful to push myself out the door on Monday, especially to go to SHAWCO. But thank goodness I did. It was by far the best SHAWCO session I’ve had thus far. I even earned my t-shirt! For those of you who haven’t read my previous posts, SHAWCO is an organization that heads into the townships and puts on educational programs for the children. My particular group goes to the township called Nyanga. I am currently teaching the grade 4’s. They are starting to remember me which is making class a little easier to control. It can be painful getting through the math portion as they fight over the limited pencils and longing to run around outside, but I promised them if they finished their work we would go play soccer (football) outside. The kids were fascinated by my GoPro as well which has made for some very fun photos and videos! Looking forward to returning next week. 

Curiosity

This coming weekend I will be heading on a West Coast Excursion and possibly sand boarding the following day. Thanks for reading! 

Just Look

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery — Air. Mountains. Trees. People. I thought: THIS is what it means to be happy.”

Every morning I leave my house I look up the road and smile. Sometimes its covered by the clouds or the rain, but on the best days it stands glowing in the sunshine. I see it when I go to class, to town, to Camps Bay. This ‘it’ is the picturesque Table Mountain. But what I’ve come to learn is that beyond Table Mountain’s spectacular beauty, Cape Town has a lot more to offer. 

Front yard

This past Friday I took a visit to Kirstenbosch Gardens and could not help but breathe in the freshness and the crispness surrounding me. It filled the air, trickled throughout the winding streams, and seeped out of the grass, the trees, and the flowers. There were so many places to discover, even hikes, and waterfalls if you were up for the journey. We found a bench under a tree and enjoyed the fact that there was no where to be but in that moment. We walked across the boomslang walkway which wiggles when you walk to represent the movement and structure of the boomslang snake. (Simple suggestion for any of you going to try this out for the first time… Bring some wine. It makes it a bit more exciting!) As the sun began its descent and the mountainous shadows overtook the gardens we chased the sunlight until it was gone. 

 photo

The next day I had my first volleyball game against University of the Western Cape! Although we lost, it was such a thrill getting back on the court and competing again. The sports “high” I experienced was definitely something I’ve been missing for a while. Because volleyball is not so big here in South Africa the volleyball community is rather tight knit. So the next day we were invited to enjoy the warm weather playing beach volleyball in Camps Bay. I also forgot to mention, our coaches are the best beach volleyball players in all of Africa. Its pretty chilled.

One of my housemates Laura, is also on the volleyball team with me and so the two of us ventured off to Camps Bay via Minibus. For those of you who don’t know what a minibus is, it is basically one of the most cost effective ways of getting around Cape Town. They are vans that you hop on and off as they drive to various parts of the city. They also honk, whistle, yell, and stop and go excessively. It makes for quite the experience. To get to Camps Bay we had to travel into town and then from there to the beach. Once we arrived in Camps Bay, I immediately felt as if I was home again. The water looked inviting (although it really is FREEZING), the sky was clear and the sun was brilliantly shining down on the sand and all the sweaty volleyball players.The best part though was feeling my toes in the sand and looking up to see yet another famous landmark in Cape Town, the twelve apostles.

12 Apostles

Laura took a couple spills before we arrived; once off the minibus and once when we first arrived, so we came in with quite an entrance! One of our teammates Cassie quickly introduced us to some of the other players and afterward we all went to grab margaritas! It was definitely a fun Sunday and a good way to meet locals. We’re looking forward to playing there every weekend if the weather is permitting. 

That same Sunday, as some of you might have known, there was a super moon. For this I took a hike up to Rhodes Memorial with a good friend of mine to enjoy the full moon, the isolation, and the lights sprinkling across Cape Town below us. 

Rhodes Memorial Outlook

As always thanks for reading! Next weeks post I will be talking about my experiences at District 6 Museum, Robben Island, and Shark Cage diving! 

Machaba Camp: Our home in the African Bush

It’s an incredibly challenging task to properly summate one of the best experiences of your life, but for the sake of my friends and family anxiously awaiting an update from “Off to Africa: Pam & Mia’s Excellent Adventure”, I will try my very best. I think the last most of you heard involved our troublesome flight situations. Yet, despite the numerous mechanical errors, several delays, 2 lost bags, rearranging of our entire itinerary, 26 hours spent flying and the additional 15 hours spent living out of an airport, the utter exhaustion and sense of defeat suddenly disappeared upon arrival at Machaba Camp. First let me set the scene for Machaba so you can have a better understanding of where we were, but to be honest, I don’t even entirely know.

After arriving in Maun, Botswana (from JoBurg, South Africa), we touched down in the smallest airport I have ever been too. We walked through customs???? Which was more like filling out a simple info sheet and acquiring another stamp for our collection. We then were greeted by our pilot and told to go through security, which was definitely more to show that they had security than to really be security. We were driven out to our “bush plane” with another couple. The plane had one propeller on the front and 6 seats including the pilot and copilot seats. We were slightly disconcerted that the pilot said we were a little heavy (due to the other couple’s overpacking), but off we went. The couple with us was dropped off at another camp site aka a landing strip in the middle of the African Bush and I got to move up to the co-pilot seat for the duration of the flight!

Bush PlaneDCIM100GOPRO

We were officially in Africa. We could see our shadow flying across the Bush and noticed a few elephants walking about! The twists and turns of the Okavango Delta were beautiful glistening reflections of the sky and the elation my mother and I felt was through the roof. As we touched down on our isolated strip of dirt, we noticed a safari car was waiting; to retrieve us but also as the pilot informed us, to make sure there weren’t any animals on the runway.

We had finally made it.

At this point I am going to apologize for the length of this post, but I fear that if I skip and over generalize I will not capture the true essence of Machaba Camp.

Machaba was comfortable. The staff was incredibly nice and more importantly personal (Elka, C, Sean, Leopard, Mr. T, Masale, Butata, & Carter are just a few). The tents were incredible (minus the big hairy spiders) and took glamping to a whole new level. But after all our traveling we finally had found a place to call home that felt like home too. There was a “living room” and “dining room” tent that was central and connected that opened up to part of the delta. Here we sat to chat, relax, eat, sit by the fire, and watch for any wildlife. But before I get into all of that we had to quickly set down our stuff and jump in the car to meet up with our safari group for the evening game drive.

Our TentThe car

For those of you who have never been on a safari, the feeling of being driven around bumpy trails with open sides, wind licking your skin and flipping your hair is quite exhilarating. I would equate it to the feeling on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, but in real life and in the African Bush. We met up with our group and jumped in their car and off we went! Our guide’s name was Leopard and we were joined with 2 older couples that were extremely friendly, wanting to show us the ropes of proper safari-ing.

I could go into the many and exciting details of the animals we encountered over the next few days but I will try to sum them up into one paragraph. Within the first 2 days we saw things that some common safari goers hadn’t seen in 40 years, that being a pack of Wild Dogs. Our safari experience will always be tainted because we saw some of the most rare animals within the first two days: We saw 2 female lions (walked within 5 feet of our vehicle), 1 male lion, a pack of wild dogs eating an Impala, a leopard eating an Impala up in a tree (stolen from the wild dogs), and another leopard up in the same tree who stole the impala carcass from the first leopard! We saw plenty of zebras, impalas, kudu, letre (I think that’s how you spell it), warthogs, hyenas and their pups, elephants, giraffes, wildebeests, vultures, eagles, hawks, and beautifully colored birds.

The moments that particularly stood out on the game drives were the following:

1. Seeing a magnificent leopard practically posing in the tree with his dead impala in front of him and his big paws dangling off the tree. He had a full belly and we watched him for quite some time. This was a rare sighting and one of the first things we saw during our stay at Machaba! He was absolutely stunning.

Leopard

2. Seeing the wild dogs chase and kill a letre and then return to their den to feed their pups. This instance was especially powerful. We watched these animals acquire their food strategically, just as we watched another animal’s life quickly disappear. The wild dogs ripped and ate this animal alive while we watched no more than 10 feet away. It was horrifying to watch but it really helped conceptualize the circle of life. As humans, we are so removed from the source of our food. We see meat as meat and not as animal or another life. This concept came full circle when we saw the wild dogs return to their den to feed their hungry little pups.

Wild dog

3. On the last day we saw a good number of elephants and giraffes. This was very special for my mom and I because we love these animals and to be quite honest, they weren’t as plentiful as we had anticipated. We saw elephants walk right in front of our car and go to drink water. It was spectacular to see them walk so close to us. The giraffes had also proved to be quite elusive but we ended up coming across a little family of them which was absolutely precious.

Show off Giraffe

4. Hippos seemed to be pretty common but on the last game drive we saw quite a bunch of them. While we were there one of them emerged out of the water and started showing off, opening his mouth and yelling a little bit. Then that same hippo got into a little fight with another hippo and eventually presented the submissive behavior by sticking his rump in the air and swinging his tail around.

5. Lastly, on our way out to the landing strip to leave we came across one last animal when we hadn’t expected to see any! We had found another leopard! We took this as a good omen for the rest of our trip.

Machaba camp had exceeded all of our expectations. It was truly magical and I was very sad to say goodbye. Fortunately, we shared unforgettable memories with each other and the families also staying at the camp. We became close to a family from Cape Town that is absolutely lovely and I now have a sense of comfort and family during my time abroad.

Currently I am finishing this post from Cape Town. I will update my next post with our travels in Zambia(which have already happened). PS we found my bags!

will try to post pictures!

Zebra RumpsCanoeing

My Personal Favorite Shot

My Personal Favorite Shot

 

Enroute to South Africa….. or so we thought?

I’d like to start this post with one of my favorite quotes that directly applies to my current status:

“Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure”

Where do I even begin? I guess I’ll start by explaining our intended route to South Africa. This morning (yesterday?) I woke up at 6 am to finish packing (the curse of procrastination), and left my lovely home in San Diego to catch a flight at 11:15am to Atlanta, Georgia. From there we had barely over an hour layover to catch our international flight from ATL–> Johannesburg, South Africa. How simple and exciting our travels seemed as we boarded our first flight. But from the very moment the pilot told us our plane was too heavy, we should have known we were in for some bad news.

They started by kicking off fellow passengers and unloading ALL of the baggage in order to take off some of the cargo to lighten up the plane. Once that was all over and done with we were 45 minutes late. So naturally my mom and I were a bit nervous about making the connection, but we reassured ourselves that 30 minutes would be enough. After a 3 hour and 45 minute plane ride we made it to Atlanta. Phew! As we pulled up to the gate, my dear mother made an announcement to the rest of the plane that we have a very tight international connection and if people don’t mind we could just run up to the front…. We made it about 10 rows.. just under half of the distance we needed to make, and surrounded by some very rude passengers. As we waited, we noticed it was taking an awfully long time and NO ONE was moving. The pilot then announced that they stopped the plane a couple feet short, so we braced ourselves as he pulled the plane forward. But still, we waited. 5 minutes later, Pilot: “well folks, when it rains, it pours. Looks like were having some technically difficulties getting the jet way to the plane.” As the minutes painfully slipped away from us our hope of making our flight was quickly diminishing. After roughly 12 minutes they told us all to sit back down! So we sadly walked back to our seats in the back of the plane so they could move the plane to another gate. They had repeatedly assured us that those of us with tight connections would make our flights because “they knew we were delayed.” Just as we were all seated ALL THE SUDDEN THEY FIXED THE JET WAY. And I kid you not, as soon as we reached the jet way my mother and I started sprinting with our duffle bag on our front and our backpacks on our backs (very heavy at that). Our flip flops fervously slapping the ground as we ran from the very end of terminal A to the tram. We were headed to E….. The very opposite side of the airport. Naturally the tram stops at every letter….. B.(7:27hurry hurry)…….. C..(7:29 ahhhhh)……. D…(7:31AHHHH)….. E!!!! Our flight departed at 7:33 and it was 7:32. We ran up the escalator around the corner and to our gate to find the gates had just closed and the aircraft was just beginning to push back from the gate…….. We waved at the pilot trying to call him back as tears were streaming down our faces. We begged to desk attendants to call back the plane…. Nothing. The plane was so close, we were so close, but there was NOTHING we could do. We had missed the flight. 

We were back to the drawing boards. We had to figure out a way to Johannesburg as quickly as possible because everything else we had planned: hotels, safaris, flights, EVERYTHING, depended on us arriving on the flight we just missed. 

After many phone calls, and several hours later we were finally helped by two wonderful Delta agents who looked at every possible route to get us to Johannesburg. We settled on a flight leaving ATL going to Dubai. So with less than 10 minutes to spare, we walked to our gate and boarded our plane. As we sat down we switched seats and mom and I were able to sit next to each other for our 14 hour flight. 

Currently I am sitting in the Dubai International Airport awaiting our flight at 4:40 am to Johannesburg (we switched to an earlier flight which was an adventure in itself). We are on standby with high confidence we will be put on the flight. Most likely all of our arrangements will be delayed a day. But we will deal with that when we arrive in Johannesburg!

Thanks for taking the time to follow my adventures, more to come! Keep your fingers crossed we make this flight!Image