Like omg spring break 2k15 YAAAAAS! (Sorry to the adults who may not understand this.) I just spent an incredible week in Cape Town for spring break, which was definitely one of the best weeks of my life. I spent all of it exploring Cape Town with great friends, views, food, and adventures. It was really nice to be away from the group – it’s sooo nice not to have to make group decisions with 33 other people all the time. We were running on our own time, yet still planning really well and making every day count. At the end of each day, I seriously couldn’t have imagined them going better; we were always busy but never rushed.
I stayed in a group of 10 people (Sophie, Emily, Mariam, Ben, Jeff, David, Kristie, Katie Mac, Cece, and myself) in two apartments, five people in each. We arrived on Tuesday, March 17th, but didn’t get to the apartments until mid-afternoon. They’re located right in the “bowl” of Cape Town (the main area), walking distance from the V&A waterfront and other main parts of town. The apartments were right next to each other, and identical. Each one had 1 bedroom with a queen-size bed, 2 sofa beds, 1 bathroom, a kitchen, and a small balcony overlooking the city and with a great view of Table Mountain (disclaimer: every apartment in Cape Town has a view of Table Mountain. Don’t go thinking that we pushed our student budgets enough to get some fancy schmancy place). After settling in a bit, we walked to the grocery store to buy food for the week. South Africa is generally much cheaper than the U.S., even in Cape Town, but not as cheap as Vietnam – we’re slowly working our way towards what the prices will be in Argentina.
Cape Town has been a completely different experience than that in Joburg and Bushbuckridge – though it is a big tourist trap, it’s full of people of different races, cultures, and nationalities. It also is a fantastic place to visit just because of the variety of activities – there are mountains and hiking trails, beaches, wineries and vineyards, city life, museums, and so much more. There’s something for everyone!
Wed. 3/18 – Sophie, Mariam, Jeff and I walked to the V&A (Victoria and Alfred) waterfront and explored before lunch, finding outdoor music, craft markets, and souvenir shops. There’s also a big mall there with a lot of fancy restaurants outside, right on the water, which look nice but didn’t appeal to me (or my wallet). The waterfront is absolutely beauuuutiful – there are lots of boats, bridges, and even seals in the water! We visited a few museums as much as we could without paying to enter (we kind of just wanted to walk around), then went to lunch at this incredible food market, filled with booths of so many types of food and tons of tastings, like fruits and vegetables, nuts, dried fruit, and chocolate (basically all my favorite things). The market was like heaven for everyone: Tunisian food, Indian, vegan, salad, flatbreads, juices/smoothies, Mexican, and anything and everything else you can think of. I had an amazing lunch from the Tunisian place of chickpea roti (basically a wrap with spiced chickpeas and vegetables) and lots of fresh veggies (spinach, tomato & cucumber, roasted eggplant & onions, peppers) on the side. AND HUMMUS. I also found hummus in the supermarket on Tuesday and purchased it immediately, but it was such a small container – clearly South Africans don’t value their hummus like I do. My entire lunch was 50 rand, which is under $5 – YES. We also ran into our friends Zack and Maddy and had lunch with them.
After lunch, we walked to Bo Kapp, which is a neighborhood in town of extremely colorful houses. Apparently they repaint them a different color every year! It’s also a mostly Muslim neighborhood, with multiple (colorful) mosques in only a few square blocks. After walking back to the apartment, the four of us and Emily got a taxi to Clifton beach to watch the sunset. This beach was absolutely gorgeous – mountains on each side, rows of houses along the hill, and beautiful (albeit cold) water. Zack and Maddy met us there with South African wine in tow to celebrate Emily finishing an interview and a wonderful first day in Cape Town. After returning to the apartment and cooking dinner, we went to another IHP apartment a few blocks away from ours and hung out – so many of us reunited after just one day! This was one of the best days ever – all of us kept saying that if we could describe our perfect day, this would be it. Exploring without a time crunch, with good food, and good company – all I need!
Thurs. 3/19 – Today all 10 of us hiked Table Mountain! I would say that every tourist in South Africa visits Table Mountain, because you can take a tram to and from the top without hiking, so anyone can get up there. We decided hike up the Skeleton Gorge Trail, which starts on the opposite side of the mountain, and it also starts in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. So we started our day around 10:30 walking through these incredible gardens (they remind me of Longwood Gardens near Philly), and began hiking straight up the mountain. What was cool about this trail is that it was a mix of what I’m calling hiking “mediums” – it was a mix of steep incline, steps, wooden ladders, and large boulders, all of which were in a heavily forested area, then slowly but surely, dirt paths through short brush (it reminded me of Arizona) and super skinny trees as we climbed to higher elevation. The change in environment made it so much more exciting! It took us a little over 1.5 hours to get to our lunch spot (this is the first of my 3 pictures featuring vegetables on a mountain), then an hour or so until we reached Maclear’s Beacon, which is the highest point on Table Mountain. From there, it was an hour or so until we reached the “table” of the mountain, which is where the tram goes, with a café, souvenir shop, and all things touristy. We hung out at the top for a while, then 4 girls took the tram down, and Sophie, Emily, Ben, Jeff, David, and I walked down via the Platteklip Trail – this trail was STRAIGHT down. We chose the two different trails so we could see the most of the mountain, and we knew the first trail was longer and that the second was shorter and steeper. This second trail was literally just straight down the mountain, so we were taking huge steps and being really careful not to fall – this was one of the many instances I wish I had my hiking boots with me! But ain’t nobody got room/extra weight in their suitcase for that. Midway down, my legs were shaking uncontrollably, just like they did after we hiked to a cave in Lac Village in Vietnam and had to walk down 1,215 stairs. It took us 1.5 hours to get to the bottom, and my legs were sore for 2 days afterward, but all in all, the entire hike was amazing. The views from all over the mountain were fantastic – you could see all the way to Cape of Good Hope, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet! Table Mountain is considered one of the 7 Wonders of Nature, so this is the 2nd of those that I’ve seen on this trip (the first was Ha Long Bay in Vietnam)! Since I’m already at 2/7, I probablyyyy should check the other 5 off my list in the future J
Fri. 3/20 – Speaking of Cape of Good Hope, 6 of us (Emily, Sophie, Mariam, Ben, Jeff, and I) spent the day traveling there and making stops along the way, thanks to a taxi driver, Zungu, whom we met on the way back from Table Mountain. Zungu offered us a great deal to have him drive us for the day, and he was quite a character. First we stopped at Muizenberg Beach, where a few of us actually got in the water (I wish I could say I did, but I’m too much of a wimp with cold oceans). We hung around on the beach for a bit, and ran into 6 of our other friends who were doing the same day trip as us. After getting back in the car, we drove through Kalk Bay and Simonstown, both of which are super quirky towns in which I would’ve loved to stop, but unfortunately, we didn’t have time. They were full of great restaurants and local crafts and all things hipster. Our next stop was at Boulders Beach, which is a penguin beach! We saw lots of penguins walking on the shore, swimming in the water, and sleeping in these little crates under trees. There were opportunities to swim with them, but we didn’t plan for that :(
Our next and final stop was the Cape of Good Hope National Park! There were two lookout points, the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point, and though you can hike from one to the other, unfortunately we didn’t have time to do it. We climbed to the highest point at the Cape of Good Hope, which was pretty much empty, so we had this incredible view all to ourselves. Then we drove to Cape Point and climbed to the lighthouse, with a 360 degree view of the surrounding water (the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and False Bay). I originally thought that this was the southernmost tip of the African continent, but it turns out there’s another Cape to the east that’s actually more southern – oops. The pamphlet from the park says it’s the most southwestern point in all of Africa, so I’ll go with that. Also, though the Atlantic and Indian Oceans do kind of meet here, it’s only their currents that meet, not the exact “line” that divides the oceans – the currents meet in False Bay (maybe why it’s called False Bay? Not sure).
Today was the first of our two near-death experiences. When we got to Cape Point, we walked through the parking lot to go to the bathroom before climbing to the lighthouse, and we saw a baboon sitting on the ledge right outside the bathroom! We had heard and seen signs warning us about baboons in the area, but we didn’t expect to actually see one. There were lots of people taking pictures of it, and a ranger standing by making sure people didn’t get too close. Ben had taken an apple out of his backpack before we saw the baboon, and when we saw it, the ranger told him to throw the apple if the baboon advanced towards us. Sure enough, the baboon immediately starts walking, or “babogging” (baboon jogging, if you will – I’m on a plane and just made that up for some personal laughs during our first of three long flights to Buenos Aires; sorry if you don’t think it’s funny) toward us. In the span of about 10 seconds, the baboon ran until it was about three feet away from us, then Ben threw his apple into the brush (far enough from the parking lot) and the baboon went chasing after it. My heart rate went through the roof when that happened, especially because I was right at the front of the group! That baboon easily could have mauled us, looking for food or otherwise. Later, Ben said that he waited to throw the apple so he was sure the baboon saw him throw it, which was quick thinking on his part – it happened so fast and we were all pretty terrified. But on a lighter note, the view from the Cape Point lighthouse was incredible!
At night, a bunch of us went out for the first time on Long Street, which is similar to Bourbon Street in New Orleans (though nothing can quite compare to Bourbon Street). I spent most of it in a bar called Beer House, where they actually have 99 bottles of beer on the wall, and great prices. It was packed with people, mostly foreigners, and I actually ran into two guys we met on the trail while hiking down Table Mountain. I also got to hang out with my friend Beth from Wesleyan who’s studying abroad here for the semester! When we left and started walking down the street, though, the vibe totally changed. Even though the streets were still packed with people going out, there were tons of locals who seemed very creepy. I don’t mean to generalize them, but this is definitely where a lot of the muggings happen. I know that South Africa isn’t the safest place and that getting mugged is common (someone told me there’s a 40% chance…wow), so I only brought a little bit of money and my local phone out with me (no iPhone, camera, or credit cards). But as I was walking down the street with some friends, I could see men grabbing at people’s pockets/purses and following us. We walked super fast, stayed together, and went home soon after. It’s really important to keep an eye on your friends and on your surroundings, and just move quickly. The night was fun, but that environment was nerve-wracking. Even walking around during the day can be uncomfortable, because people came up to us all the time persistently asking for money.
Sat. 3/21 – Our weekend was less “scheduled” than our first three days, but still super fun. A few of us walked around the town near our apartment, stopping in Company’s Garden to see some live performances from local singing and dancing groups, an event that takes place annually. The garden area reminded me of both Central Park and Rittenhouse Square, full of walkways and trees and gardens and fountains and beautiful buildings. After getting lunch at the Eastern Food Bazaar (bought my second falafel of spring break…so worth it), we walked to the Castle of Good Hope, but didn’t pay to go inside and just walked around outside it. We walked back to the apartment and left almost immediately to go hike Lion’s Head for sunset. In Cape Town, there are three mountains in a row (you can see them all): Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain, and Lion’s Head. Ben and Jeff hiked Devil’s Peak during the day, then met the other five of us hiking Lion’s Head – I don’t think I could’ve done that many miles with so much climbing in one day, but they crushed it. We started hiking around 4:40 and got to the top a little before 6pm; the entire hike was essentially walking in a spiral around the mountain until we reached the top, and it included steep inclines, ladders, chains, and of course, climbing straight up. On the way up, we actually ran into two kids from the other IHP Public Health track (theirs is called Spring 1 and travels to DC, India, South Africa, and Brazil, whereas ours is Spring 2 and goes to New Orleans, Vietnam, South Africa, and Argnetina). We knew both groups were in Cape Town at the time, but it was still funny that we ran into them and identified ourselves when none of us knew each other. Here’s where the second near-death experience comes in (though it has nothing to do with the fact that they were the other IHP students…or does it??): we were talking to them for about 10 minutes, standing in a circle, when all of a sudden, this small boulder (is that an oxymoron? It defines the rock perfectly) fell down from way above and smashed right in the middle of us, easily a foot from my head. I’m not sure how it fell except that someone may have thrown it, but it was still really terrifying; it could’ve easily hit one of us and severely injured or even killed someone. Just like the baboon situation, we weren’t doing the wrong thing, we were just unlucky but lucky in the way that things played out. After that happened, we started hiking again, and slowly our heart rates went down. The view throughout the hike, but especially at the top, made everything okay again – on one side was all of Cape Town with the shadow of Lion’s Head over it, and on the other was the sun setting over the sea. We knew the sunset would be around 7, so we left by 6:15 to make our way down the mountain to a place where we could watch the sunset without having to climb down the steep parts of the trail in the dark. When we got far enough down, we sat down and broke out some wine and beer that we purchased earlier in the afternoon, which we lugged all the way up the mountain, and it was absolutely worth it. So many cheers to amazing views and amazing company.
Sun. 3/22 – Most of our apartment walked to the amazing food market in the V&A waterfront for brunch, and stayed to walk around for a few hours, before walking back to the apartment to cook our dinner at 3pm. We had bought tickets to one of the weekly summer concerts at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (each ticket was 75 rand aka $6), so we cooked up all of our leftover food (mostly frozen veggies for an amazing stirfry) and brought it as a picnic. The concert venue was incredible – think of the Mann Music Center, but surrounded by mountains and gardens instead of the Philly skyline). The concert featured two South African bands, Beatenberg and Gangs of Ballet, and they were perfect for an outdoor concert – I kept feeling like it was summer, then I remembered that it IS summer in South Africa. I’m just completely skipping winter this year, and I’m totally okay with it.
Mon. 3/23 – This was our last full day in Cape Town! We packed up the apartments and moved to the Sunflower Stop hostel, just a few miles away, to meet back up with the group. In the afternoon, we had our Cape Town Caper at Camps Bay, where we met the other IHP group and hung out by the beach for a few hours. It was a lot of fun to meet them and hear about their experiences, some really similar and some really different. Their stay in South Africa has been really different than ours, in that they’ve been around Cape Town the whole time. They lived in rural homestays for 10 days, then came to Cape Town to live in a second homestay in Bo Kapp (the really colorful neighborhood), and their spring break is also here. While those still sound great, I’m so glad for my track’s experience. We got to live in Johannesburg, then Bushbuckridge, an area of South Africa that tourists probably never visit, and finally end up in Cape Town for spring break. I got a taste of three completely different areas of South Africa, while their group is mostly in the same place. As my friend Allie said, she felt a little too comfortable in Cape Town, so it wouldn’t have been the same type of experience if we lived here the whole time.
What an incredible week!! I still can’t believe everything that happened and how fun it was. I spent it in a magical and gorgeous city with wonderful friends – I couldn’t imagine a better spring break. I don’t know how we’re already on our way to Argentina (I’m currently on a flight to Dubai…because it makes total sense to fly all the way up to Dubai instead of straight west to Buenos Aires and stay at almost the same latitude, much less the same hemisphere). (Side note/plug for Emirates Airlines: this airplane is tricked OUT – colored lights, stars on the ceiling that glow when the lights go off, and every movie you could imagine, including an entire section devoted to Disney. WOW.)
Here’s a short list of things I will and won’t miss about South Africa – it’s pretty short, probably because I haven’t slept in a very long time and my body just hurts from that and sitting on this plane for so long. I’m finishing this so I can go watch Tangled J
Things I’ll miss about South Africa:
- My amazing host family, especially Hamilton, who ran with me every morning
- The beautiful mountains and hikes we did
- The variety of veggies my host mom cooked
- How nice and friendly everyone was
- The village kids who were always willing and excited to play games, especially the dance circle “On the stage”
Things I won’t:
- Taking malaria medication
- Allllll the carbs, all the time
- (I’m too tired for this right now)
I can’t believe that I’m headed back to the states in just five weeks…time is absolutely flying, and while I’m enjoying it all, I want it to slow down. But I am ridiculously excited for Argentina! I can’t wait to speak (and hopefully drastically improve my) Spanish, dance wildly in tango and salsa clubs, and drink mate. ¡Hasta Argentina!