Monday, February 25, 2008

the blog to end all blogs, part two: plettenberg bay, storms river, tsitsikamma national park

Our hostel in Plett was called Nothando’s and was SO NICE compared to the Island Vibe, but I honestly could have been given a pillow, a blanket, and a cardboard box to put on the grass and it would have been nicer than the IV. But anyways. We were all staying in two rooms again, and ours was really nice and near the hostel bar, which is always a good thing. After settling in and showering and unpacking a little bit, Jeremy and I talked to Louie (who turned out to also be kind of crazy and definitely eccentric) about getting a restaurant recommendation for dinner that night. We went to Fushi, which is a sushi and fusion place, which ended up being really reasonable for the service and food and was really nice. When we walked in, I was in front and told the waiter who came to greet us that we had 13 people and he said, “Oh, but you need to have booked” and I told him that we had booked and he told us that someone had called about 15 minutes before to cancel it and I, of course, freaked out, but it turns out he was just joking. We all ordered massive amounts of food and drinks with ginger and litchi in them and ended up closing the restaurant down because we stayed for almost two hours. Went back to Nothando’s, hung out at the bar in the hostel and ended up watching bungee jumping and skydiving DVDs in order to psych ourselves up for going bungee jumping the next day in Tsitsikamma National Park near Storms River, where we stayed for the last two nights of our epic, epic, epic adventure. I had initially been completely opposed to going bungee jumping, but watching the DVDs got me really excited about it, and so I started to think a lot more seriously about actually going,

We woke up the next morning and had the mother of all breakfasts at the hostel, which included muffins, cereal, fruit, yogurt, toast, eggs, bacon, everything ever. We decided to go to Monkeyland (yeah…) and Birds of Eden, which is the largest open-air bird sanctuary in the southern hemisphere (I think). Monkeyland was crazy; you aren’t allowed to walk around there without a guide, so we went on a tour and saw a bunch of different primates that, as I failed miserably at Bioanth last semester, I can’t really remember, but they were SO CLOSE TO US and adorable. See Facebook for mad pictures of them. After Monkeyland and getting eaten alive by mosquitoes (malaria o’clock… just kidding) we went to the bird sanctuary, which was actually really awesome. I took so many pictures, and strangely kept wishing that Dad were there because he loves birds and birdwatching and, you know, nature. After birds, I unsuccessfully tried to convince everyone to get a cab back into Plett to get lunch there since I figured it’d be cheaper than the restaurant and Birds of Eden and have more options for everyone, but Jeremy made an executive decision that the restaurant looked reasonable and delicious, so we stayed.

This restaurant proved to be the worst place in the WORLD. They had no electricity and no running water and we didn’t get our menus for literally 20 minutes. After unsuccessfully ordering drinks (they said they had no Coke Light for our table, but then had it for the other table we were sitting at) and struggling to order food (we all ordered trammezzinis, which it turned out they were out of) we waited an hour and a half for overpriced baked potatoes and chicken sandwiches, consequently making us call our cab driver about three times to push back when we were getting picked up. That aside, it was a pretty good day. We got back to Nothando’s and packed up our stuff, all of which was wet by this point due to living out of our backpacks, rain the night before, and kloofing, and waited outside for the Baz Bus. It was late, as per usual, and then when it finally pulled up Sam was driving, and he yelled out the window to me (I was standing in the doorway of the hostel), “Where is Leen-say?” and I responded that she was inside and he promptly said, “I don’t see her!” and then drove away. We’d all been outside waiting for a while and were really confused as to why the Baz had come and then left, but just assumed that he was going to drop someone else off or turn around. 20 minutes and one attempted and unfortunately not documented cheerleader pyramid later another Baz Bus pulled up with a different driver to take us to Storms River. Turns out Sam had known we were going to be at Nothando’s and drove by even though he was running super late and wasn’t even our driver.

The drive to Storms River took about an hour, and we drove over the Bloukrans Bridge, which is the highest bungee bridge in the world. Just looking out the window at the bridge made me start to freak out, and I decided to once again revoke my decision to go bungee jumping. We got to our hostel, which was called the Tube 'n' Axe and moved into our room. All of us were in one room, which was nice, along with Monty, who works at both Tube 'n' Axe and Carnival Court, a hostel on Long Street in Cape Town that we've actually been to, strangely enough. There were a bunch of CIEE kids there who had been in Storms River for four or five days that were leaving that night who we hung out with until they left around midnight. There was a woman staying at the hostel with her husband's friend (who she ended up hooking up with later on in the night...) who walked into our room when only Jeremy was there and (we think she was already drunk at this point, circa 7:30 p.m.), after looking at our bunk beds and stuff everywhere, asked, "Are you... slaves?" She crazy. After showering and cooking dinner (thanks to Britt, Christine, and I going shopping in Plett), we played Kings and laid out on bean bags watching the stars, which were absolutely gorgeous. Side note: Cape Town is one of the only cities I can remember being in where you can see stars, it's chill.

The next morning, Alex, Lydia, and Jeremy left at 9 to go hiking in Tsitsikamma, and the rest of us hung out and ate breakfast until Leon (who works for Tube 'n' Axe and is also absolutely crazy and creepy, he hooked up with "Are you... slaves?" as well, apparently) drove us to Bloukrans Bridge, about a half hour from Storms River, to go bungee jumping. My plan was just to go along and watch, but that changed when I found myself properly outfitted in spandex and a tank top filling out indemnity forms, flashing 600 rand in cash for Erin to properly document, and stepping on a scale to get weighed and assigned a jump number. We went in two groups of five and spent a somewhat agonizing hour or so waiting for everyone else to show up so we could all be in the same jump group. After getting our harnesses on, we waited some more, and then walked across this absurdly long and really terrifying suspension bridge to the actual jump site. The process of bungee jumping is also really bizarre; we ended up standing around waiting for about two and a half or three hours while people went in front of us, sort of standing aimlessly and talking and listening to the endless stream of pump up jams they play to psych you up or out or both before you jump.

Christine was the first of our group to go and did it like a champ, and then I was 4th. Ian went right before me and ended up stumbling and falling off the bridge instead of jumping/being pushed off (which they do do... the guys help you hop out to the edge and you put your toes over and they count down 5...4...3...2...1... and then you either jump or they push you, no joke), which really freaked me out. Naturally, I was the worst of our group and took the longest to get up, I felt like I was cemented to the bench after they'd strapped me in and everything. I guess the expression paralyzed by fear is legit. I sort of blacked out and can't remember the actual process very well, but hanging upside down over the river waiting to be brought back up was really strange, I kept saying "Oh my god" and "Is someone coming to get me?" until the guy finally came, and going back up was strangely terrifying as well. All in all though I'm really glad I did it, and the DVD is hysterical.

Back at the hostel, we decided to eat dinner that they cooked for us and then I passed out for three hours while some of the other girls walked to the Big Tree in Tsitsikamma, which is a huge 36 meter yellowwood. The yellowwood is the national tree of South Africa, just FYI. We hung out at the hostel again (there's really nothing to do in Storms River), played pool and drank 40s of Black Label and Castle like the classy kids we are, and then slept to get up for the Baz Bus at 10 the next morning.

I feel like I could write an entire blog entry about the trip back on Thursday, so I think I'll leave this for now...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

is it?

i just made "is it?" the name of my newest facebook album so i feel a little dumb doing it for a blog entry also, but i'm basically obsessed with the phrases "is it?" and "how's it?" (used to start a conversation/as a substitute for "what's up," it's kind of like ciao in that it can be its own entity but can also be a response to "how's it," but now i'm just rambling so...) so here we go.

currently sitting in the leslie social science southside computer lab 1 sweating BALLS. seriously, i never knew what it was like to sweat until i came to cape town. the wind has totally disappeared and now it's just hot, since i guess february and march are the south african month equivalents to our late july and early august. it gets pretty cold at night, like sweater and jeans cold, and is usually somewhere around that temperature in the morning, but once like 9 or 10 a.m. hits it shoots up to 85 and then you just want to die, especially walking up the hill to upper campus or even just from middle to upper or up jameson steps. alskjfh. i am visibly sweaty and therefore tucked into the farthest corner of the lab. unfortunately, no one here believes in chairs, so i'm sitting on a stool with my disgusting self and specifically back exposed for the whole world to see. god, life is so hard.

anyways, i still need to post the second half of my garden route blog which will theoretically happen this weekend, but i have a few observations i wanted to write about before that occurs.

the best indicator for distinguishing between americans and south africans, etc. is footwear, specifically lack thereof or some form of obvious leather. i've started subscribing to the south african policy of walking around campus barefoot as often as i can, because apparently it's totally acceptable to forego shoes in cafes, in class, on the shuttle, wherever, and i am so into it. if one does wear shoes here though, i've noticed the guys wear leather loafers regardless of how hot it is, usually with board shorts because of the huge surf culture here, and girls wear these great sort of grecian strappy leather flat sandals that i see everyone, literally everyone, wearing but can't seem to find in a store.

more ramblings... all of the guys here are attractive, literally all of them, in a sort of conventional (i hesitate to say bland but it's sort of true, sorry bout it) yet still interesting way. a lot of guys also favor what i've dubbed the stellenbosch fauxhawk, which can range anywhere from the carefully disheveled gelled look we all know and love to the greasy, mid-scalp down scummy variety.

i'm definitely getting into more of a routine now that classes have started, which i guess is good. a lot of people are trying to get away from the mentality that this is just a vacation and really start to exist here, but i'm sort of unwilling to do that and still want to go out all the time (relatively speaking) and do things a lot, but that unfortunately requires money and no responsibilities, which i know have little of and many. i lucked out and have NO CLASS ON FRIDAY, so that opens up the potential for weekend trips and stuff, which is awesome.

on the agenda for the next few weeks: climbing lion's head, stormers vs. crusaders super 14 rugby game, and stellenbosch or constantia. SO PUMPED.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

the blog to end all blogs, part one: wilderness to knysna

So we just got back from one of the most epic weeks of my life. After UCT orientation and registration ended, we had a week before classes started and so a bunch of kids from my program and I booked tickets on the Baz Bus to go backpacking along the Garden Route, which is a series of towns and national parks along the western and eastern Cape of Africa. There were 13 of us, which actually ended up being a great number and equaled so much fun. The Baz Bus is a great system for the most part; basically, you book a ticket for a certain amount of time, and then you can get on and off in any town that the Baz stops in, and they even bring you directly to your hostel.

The trip kicked off with a hectic early morning walk/minibus ride to Obs (Observatory, a neighborhood about fifteen minutes from my apartment with a lot of bars and restaurants where UCT kids live) and then an hour-long wait on the sidewalk in front of a hostel called The Green Elephant for the Baz Bus, which, like everything else in South Africa, runs on its own schedule, i.e. is late pretty frequently. A common expression here is “TIA, mate” which stands for This Is Africa, and can be used as justification for pretty much anything. Our first leg of the trip was about six hours to Wilderness (yes, there is a town called Wilderness) but we lucked out with a great driver named Sam who let us play Jackie’s CDs (the Beatles, reggae, and more reggae by a singer I actually remember the name of, Sista Cat; she’s from Philly but lives in California, check her out, seriously) and fell in love with Lindsay, who we now all refer to as Leen-say on a regular basis. The Baz system is pretty impressive; wherever they’re dropping people off, they pick up an equal number of people up so that the bus is always full, and consequently they’re making mad bank. We stopped a couple of times on the way to Wilderness, once at a McDonald’s (Sam apologized profusely to Leen-say for taking her to McDonald’s on their first date) and to pick up a barefoot girl with the best hair I’ve ever seen who was going to visit her aunt in Wilderness and surf and once in George, which is about 20 minutes from Wildnerness.

We got to our backpackers (hostels are called backpackers in SA) in Wilderness which was called the Fairy Knowe and all of us immediately fell in love with it. It’s got huge grounds and the owner, Monica, is awesome and helped us plan our kloofing voyage for the next day in addition to taking us shopping and making dinner. Fairy Knowe was definitely the nicest place we stayed; we had three rooms in a little house set back on the grounds that had a porch with a bunch of armchairs on it and the beds were super clean and the most comfortable things I’ve ever slept on. Before dinner, Jackie, Dana, and I went for a walk following the train tracks for the steam train that I think still stops at Fairy Knowe, which ended up in us climbing down the railroad bridge to a sort of embankment on a river and just hanging out there for a while. Christine and I showered outside accompanied by a gigantic spider friend (we were in Wilderness, after all… wow, lame, sorry bout it) and then we hung out at the hostel’s bar and at the bonfire. I was exhausted for some reason even though I’d slept on the bus, and I ended up falling asleep at like 10:30, but that ended up being great for the next day’s extreme activities.

fairy knowe o'clock.

the hostel grounds.
best train tracks EVER.

random house/there is barbed wire everywhere in this country.


Ten of us (Isaac, me, Christine, Dana, Erin, Lindsay, Alex, Brittany, Jackie, and Lauren) decided to go kloofing (kloof means canyon in Afrikaans), which is a combination of hiking, swimming, bouldering, and cliff jumping. It took forever to get our wetsuits on, which was pretty hysterical, and then we hiked for about half an hour in the same wetsuits to get down to the river. We alternately swam and hiked and bouldered until we got to a series of cliffs you can jump off of, ranging from 12-20 feet. I only jumped off the lowest cliff because I suck at life/being extreme, but it was still a lot of fun. Then we had a mid-kloof (I could say this word forever… kloof kloof kloof) snack of cookies, Kit Kat bars, coffee, and the river water which is brown but that you can drink (hopefully we’re not all infested with African freshwater parasites) and then ventured down the river. Everything was great until our guide, Paul, who was really nice but honestly kind of dumb/out of it decided to throw rocks at a beehive. Naturally, the bees were pissed off and swarmed around us, and Erin and I ended up getting stung, and everyone kept periodically throwing themselves back into the river and under water to avoid getting stung also. Kloofing was still great, and we got back to our hostel and hung out and played pool until the Baz came to get us to take us to Knysna, which is about a half an hour from Wilderness farther east along the Cape.

britt and her wetsuit were BEST FRIENDS.


alex, hasel, jackie, and dana (and kloofing) = EXTREME.

Got to our backpackers around 4:30 and moved into our rooms. Most of us had our own rooms downstairs from the bar and the pool, but a few girls were in a dorm with a couple other random people upstairs, including this 60-year-old guy named Tony who works in construction and for some reason lives at the Island Vibe (our hostel) in a shared dorm. We all showered and then made dinner plans, which somehow ended up including Tony. He initially offered to drive us to the restaurant we’d made reservations at, but we were a little creeped out by that, so we ended up just walking to the waterfront by the lagoon, unfortunately accompanied by Tony. We split into two groups to eat dinner since some people wanted Chinese food and some wanted seafood, and then met up after we ate dinner to drink at this place called Olde’s Pub. Tony was getting increasingly friendly with some of us (girls, duh) and questionably more drunk. This guy named Charlie who had just moved back home to Knsyna from Joburg (I think) was absolutely wasted and kept buying all of us drinks, including a round of a drink called a suitcase which I think was supposed to be a mixed double shot of Jack Daniels and passionfruit juice (so big as a mixer here) but ended up coming out as a round of double shots of Jack and then ten minutes later after we’d all taken the shots of Jack, double shots of passionfruit juice. Tony continued to creep, Charlie continued to buy rounds of drinks even though his friends kept telling him not to and warning him that they wouldn’t console him when he was crying the next day after he realized how much he’d spent on random Americans, and then Isaac and Charlie arm wrestled with 100 rand in bets on the table. Absolutely absurd. A bunch of us went to go sit outside once we’d decided to leave, and Charlie came out and yelled at us and flicked us off for not paying for the drinks he’d bought us that we didn’t ask for, so things were a little tense for a while, but then we left. Our hostel was only about ten minutes from the bar, and so we walked back even though it was like 1 in the morning. Jeremy and Ian (after many cheap scotch-on-the-rocks) decided to help this random guy push his car down the street, and Dana and I held back to watch this bizarre thing happen. Then we realized that we were the only ones back from the group (along with Tony) and that we had to catch up with everyone. We ran up to everyone, and I glanced back and saw that Tony was sprinting behind us to catch up. Bad news bears. We got back to our hostel finally and Jackie, Lauren, and I decided to go drunken swimming in the Island Vibe pool, otherwise known as a glorified bathtub. We were sitting on the edge while Jeremy and Ian were actually in the pool, and wasted Jeremy decided to pull us in one by one, which was obviously pretty sweet. Tony came out to the pool in his boxer briefs (emphasis on the brief) and announced to deaf ears that he was going to sleep, and then promptly went inside to change into his obscenely awful Speedo/banana hammock/weenie bikini when he discovered we were hanging out by the pool. Once he realized that no one was going to pay attention to him, he went downstairs to our rooms after Alex who had grabbed her stuff and announced that she was going back to Cape Town and got into bed with Erin. Naturally, this did not go over well, and she shoved him out of her bed with alarming speed and ended up playing sleepover with Jackie in our room.

After eating peanut butter and raisin sandwiches on crackers late into the night and sleeping in our swimsuits, we woke up and packed up all our stuff and PEACED out of the Island Vibe. We went to breakfast at a really cute place in downtown Knysna called Fat Susi’s Bistro and then got a cab to Leisure Island where we sat on the beach, rented kayaks and kayaked out to the Heads (not all that interesting rock formations at the mouth of the lagoon where the ocean meets the fresh water) while battling crazy wind and some rain and intense currents. After kayaking was done, we went to get lunch at a restaurant on the waterfront called Paquita’s before getting the Baz to Plettenberg Bay, called Plett, which is a resort town about 20 minutes from Knysna. I also forgot to include (retrospective realization) that in order to get from the lagoon where we kayaked, the guy who we rented the kayaks from put all of us in the back of his pickup truck and drove us about 15 minutes through downtown Knysna to the waterfront. Crazy shit. Ohhh life.

in the pickup truck. this unfortunately does depict the first five minutes in which lindsay was straddling christine.

view of the knysna heads from paquita's restaurant on the waterfront.

To be continued...

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

all michael jackson, all the time

swimming halfway up table mountain = totally legit.

the water was red because of fumic acid, whatever that might be. maybe if i were as cool as nicko i'd link to the wikipedia article...sorry bout it.

cape town beaches.

my roommate is a champ.

lion's head and most of cape town.

hiking table ended up taking us eight hours including swimming at south africa's highest and smallest beach, but it was absolutely worth it. hiking down was a lot harder than i had anticipated, but i beasted it even though i kept asking if south african stores sold new knees the entire way down. fyi: they don't.

after table, we went out to dinner at a place called cafe ganesh that evan found (lonely planet diet whaaat) despite the entire city being in a blackout that lasted six hours. we were all pretty freaked out, especially since steve, our cab driver, was nervous and talking about the looting and riots that apparently happen when the power goes out. south africa is facing a huge power crisis right now, and zimbabwe is totally screwed because south africa had been supplying it with electricity, but now we don't have enough to keep cape town, etc. running so... christine and i were doing our laundry yesterday and the power went out in rondebosch right after we put our clothes in the dryer, sweet.

yesterday we kicked it at cocoa wah wah (where i am now, iced americanos are my jam) and then went up to uct for an african drumming workshop and free food, both of which were AWESOME. then home before going to zula sound bar on long street where ian, caroline, matt and i had amazing flatbread pizzas and two bottles of wine for basically 7 bucks a person, amazing. after zula, almost everyone went home, but evan, bart, christine, ian, alex, seth, caroline and i went to hear a marimba band at mama africa that was great. i was running on five hours of sleep due to our brilliant choice to stay up until 5:30 a.m. the night before to watch the superbowl.

time to play scrabble! kbye.