Archive | April, 2012

goin’ to durbs

26 Apr

It’s been a quiet two weeks in Grahamstown since I returned from my epic spring break adventure. But tomorrow, the excitement begins again as I head to Durban, the third largest city in South Africa after Johannesburg and Cape Town. We have a long weekend coming up—Freedom Day, Workers Day, and my personal mental health day are combining to give me a five-day weekend to travel with five of my friends. Durban is one of the places I would not leave South Africa without visiting. Not only does it have a tropical climate with year-round warm temperatures (which sound great after the cold weather we’ve been having in Grahamstown this week—winter is coming!), but it also has been called the largest Indian city outside of India, due to the fact that approximately one fourth of the population is Indian. Needless to say, Durban has been on my to do list. I will arrive on Friday night and spend my long weekend exploring the city before I leave on Tuesday afternoon.

All this traveling I’ve been doing is made possible by the money I’ve been saving combined with scholarships and birthday money from my family. However, after my last trip I became pretty concerned about my bank account and the money in it (or lack thereof). I think I’m almost finished traveling within South Africa, until I have a real job and can afford to come back. I got so caught up in wanting a little more money that I sold my body to science and signed up for a skin-bleaching test. Sadly, today was the screening and there was no effect whatsoever on my skin from the creams and I can’t participate in the experiment, which would have brought me over $100. Oh well, my only option at this point is just to try to live as frugally as I can until mid-June, and then find a summer job back in the states. Easier said than done. Trying to apply for jobs and organize summer plans becomes a bit more complicated when you’re on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. But for now, my main priority is to enjoy this weekend in Durban and to eat as much Indian food as I can. This weekend is going to rock, I can tell. 

Phir milenge! (That’s “see you later” in Hindi; I’m already back in the Indian spirit…)

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the best two weeks

17 Apr

After two weeks of continuous traveling, the thought of trying to express everything that happened is exhausting. I’ve been making bullet points as I go. So I’m just going to describe a few of the highlights of my trip.

1) Bungee Jumping- The highest commercial bungee jump in the world was more amazing than I could ever have imagined. All of my friends jumped too (one of them by peer pressure, bringing new meaning to the quote, “If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?”). We all got harnessed up and walked out on the see-through walkway until we reached the middle of the bridge. High energy techno music was playing the whole time. It’s amazing how music can make it so much easier to swan dive off a bridge. We got called in random order, and a man strapped our legs together and attached the cord. Then we hopped out to the edge with the support of two of the guys who worked there. At this point there was no turning back– if you couldn’t make yourself jump, the two guys would give you a “helping hand”, and off the bridge you go. Fortunately I didn’t need the helping hand. I wish I could express the feeling of free falling… It was the most exhilarating sensation I have ever experienced. The fall was so quiet, and the river and the trees were rushing up towards me. The wind rushed past my ears and my stomach flew up in my throat. It was amazing. For those few seconds, nothing was holding me back. There was no resistance and I was free. I definitely want to go bungee jumping again someday, and I highly recommend it to everyone.

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My bungee jumping group

2) Cage Diving with Great White Sharks- This almost didn’t happen. I was the group’s designated “shark girl” in charge of booking the cage diving trip. We were all set to go with a company in Gansbaai, but unfortunately bad weather ruined our plans and we were forced to cancel because the water was too rough. There is one cage diving company in Mossel Bay (which is on the Garden Route), and on a whim I called them the day before we would be passing through to see if they had space for nine people. To my surprise, they said yes, and the next day my friends and I were on a boat. We anchored near a small island which was home to hundreds of seals. Here we changed into our wetsuits and waited as the crew threw chum into the water and cast out half a tuna on a rope into the bay. After about ten or fifteen minutes, the first shark came. Since the cage could only hold six people at a time, we had to go in several different groups. The shark stayed around long enough for all three groups to have a turn in the cage. Over the course of about two hours we saw four different great whites and were able to each have two turns in the cage. Every time the crew on the boat saw a shark, they would shout “down!” and we would go underwater to see it swim by. Usually it was a few meters away, but a few times it brushed past the cage within arm’s reach. Being able to get up close with one of nature’s deadliest predators was an awesome experience and I’m so glad that my friends and I were able to go cage diving.

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Me (left) and my friend Sydney in the shark cage

3) Ostrich Riding- Very awkward. For less than $10, we took a tour of Cango Ostrich Farm (on the morning of our shark diving trip, what an awesome day that was!) and we got to learn all about ostriches and then get up close and personal with them. In Oudtshoorn, the town we spent the night in, there are many ostrich farms, and the farm we visited allowed us to ride the ostriches. Riding an ostrich is one of the stranger sensations I’ve experienced. When I climbed on the ostrich, the tour guide told me, “This is Kilo. He is very fast.” and then I was instructed to “hold it like a bicycle,” whatever that means. The whole time I felt like I was about to slip off, and when I did, two ostrich jockeys (no lie, that is a legitimate job title) were there to catch me. The ostrich farm was definitely one of the highlights of my trip.

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Riding off into the distance on my noble ostrich

4) Tour of the Rastafarian Village- This was a spur of the moment decision. Some of my friends wanted to go hiking, and others wanted to go to the beach, but I was in the mood to do something random. So after consulting the tourism brochure for Knysna, the town we were in, I decided that it could be interesting to go on a tour  of the largest Rastafarian community in South Africa. I then called Brother Paul and scheduled a tour. My friends dropped me off at the tourism office where I waited outside on a bench for him, and after about twenty minutes I got a phone call from Brother Paul. He told me that he was standing across the road from the tourism office. I didn’t see him, so I stood up to have a better look around. I immediately recognized him and became happy with my decision to go on this tour. Brother Paul and I walked to the bus station where we caught a minibus to a township (the South African version of a ghetto or slum, which can be found in basically every city) and he led me from there to the Rastafarian village, which consisted of about thirty families. I learned so much about the religion– for example, i never knew that Rastafarianism is directly connected to Christianity in the fact that Rastafarians believe that one of the Ethiopian emperors (before being crowned, his name was Ras Tafari, hence the name of the religion) was the second coming of Jesus and his bloodline could be traced back to King Solomon. It was eye-opening to learn about such a radically different belief system, and I’m glad I decided to tour the Rastafarian village. After walking through the village, visiting the Rastafarian church (which I was surprised to learn contained a copy of the Old Testament) and meeting several members of the community, I said goodbye to Brother Paul and got into another minibus which took me back to town.

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Me and Brother Paul

Along with my Table Mountain adventure, these four things are probably the highlights of my trip. But there are so many other experiences I had in the past two weeks– I befriended a pirate, was able to practice my Spanish on multiple occasions, got attacked by squirrel monkeys (well, they started attacking each other on my lap), climbed Lion’s Head (another mountain in Cape Town) to watch the sun go down, discovered my new favorite restaurant in Cape Town– Food Inn, I highly recommend it because you can get all the Indian/Turkish/Chinese food you could ever want for about $5, slept in a refurbished convent, saw penguins at the Cape of Good Hope, turned twenty years old (my friends were great, and so was that day), ate at an Elvis Presley-themed diner, swam in natural hot springs, went on an adventure tour in Cango Caves, ate an ostrich kebab, stayed in about ten different hostels, slept on beaches, drove a car on the left side of the road for the first time, became a fan of country music (ironically, converted by my friends from Boston), road tripped across the entire bottom of South Africa, and met dozens of awesome people from all around the world.

Spring break 2012 = the best two weeks ever.

an afternoon on table mountain

3 Apr

This is one of those stories my parents won’t approve of.

On Sunday afternoon, I decided to climb Table Mountain with some new friends I had met at my hostel, Cape Town Backpackers (I highly recommend it, but more on that later). My school friends were going to some market on the other side of town and I wasn’t too into that, so when the Canadian girl, the two guys from Texas, and an Indian South African/Australian man invited me to hike up Table Mountain with them, I said yes. A little after noon, we took a minibus from the hostel to the bottom of the mountain, where we began to climb. About five minutes later I was already struggling to keep up, and I was grateful to one of the Texas guys when he offered to carry my backpack. Five minutes after that, I was gasping for air (I am not a mountain climber by any means and they were going so fast…) and I urged them to go on without me, telling them that I would meet them at the top. I then began to slowly make my way up the mountain alone in the blistering heat, cradling my water bottle football-style in the crook of my arm.

A lot of people were climbing up and down the mountain, so I never felt unsafe. For about twenty minutes, I climbed with a nice Indian family, and they gave me a bunch of grapes to eat as I climbed. Then I met a group of three South Africans and we kind of played leapfrog up the mountain (they would stop to rest and I would pass them, then I would stop and they would pass me, and so on). And I probably said hello to half the people who were coming down the mountain, and asked them if I was close to the top. Most of them either laughed or told me that I was almost there, which was a bald-faced lie. Even though I had some enjoyable moments on the way up, I couldn’t help but think that climbing this mountain was a terrible idea.

About an hour into my climb, when I couldn’t see any of my new hostel friends on the winding mountain trail, I began to see the problem with the fact that I had given my backpack to Mark from Texas– it contained my phone, my camera, my money, and my spare water bottle. Interestingly, I was never worried that my things would be stolen… I was just worried that the people I was with would think that I turned back and then rapelled down the mountain (because that was what they had been planning) without me, leaving me stranded on the top. I was planning on taking the cable car down, because at this point I didn’t think it was physically possible for me to go back down that mountain on my feet, especially with only a fourth of a water bottle remaining.

Finally, I reached the top. I had expected a completely flat surface that would make it easy for me to see everyone who was on top. Not the case. First of all, it’s huge up there. And secondly, it’s not flat at all, so you can’t see everything from one place. I made two laps around the top, frantically searching for my friends. I used one of my new leapfrog friends’ phones to call my phone (which was on vibrate), hoping they would know it was me and answer. But no such luck. I eventually went to one of the rangers on the mountain, and after talking to his manager he assured me that they would be able to get me down from the mountain and back to my hostel. Having one last idea though, I went to the rapelling place and asked the guy working there if two Americans had gone down. By some miracle, the Canadian girl was about to begin her descent just as I got there, and she told me that the Texans had gone down already, but that the other guy was waiting in the cafe and he had my backpack. I went to the cafe to find Rexy, the Indian South African/Australian, eating some ostrich jerkey with my backpack sitting next to him. At this point, I really felt like I had climbed the mountain.

So everything turned out alright. Strangers pulled through for me, reaffirming my faith in humanity. I know this is not something I’m going to do every day, and it’s not even a good idea probably, but I’m so happy about everything that happened on Sunday. My afternoon on Table Mountain was one to remember.

My first few days in Cape Town have been amazing. I’m so happy to be in a real city, just because of the variety of options it gives me. I can walk to the ocean or ride on an open-top bus or go to a market or whatever I want. The hostel we stayed at for the first two nights, Cape Town Backpackers, was great. I met so many cool people there from around the world and the small, intimate setting made it easy to make new friends, including an Italian pirate (befriending an Italian pirate is probably on my top ten accomplishments in life). I also got to speak in Spanish, which I haven’t been able to do in a really long time.

I’m now in a different hostel, which I definitely don’t like as much because it’s more like a hotel and I don’t feel like I’m roughing it. It’s also harder to meet new people, but I move to a new hostel tomorrow so hopefully that will be better. I’m looking forward to the next week and a half, because so far I’ve had an amazing time in Cape Town and I feel like it’s going to continue.