Red, red wine, you make me feel so fine!

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This past weekend I finally got a little taste of the wonderful area of Stellenbosch. Stellenbosch is the premier destination for wine lovers in South Africa. It’s located about 50 km from the city of Cape Town and it’s definitely a must see attraction if you’re ever in the area and like wine and good food. Even if you don’t like wine and good food (which is crazy talk!) the area is very beautiful and worth a visit.
I only made it to one winery in Stellenbosch, but it got me so excited to venture out for more. I was on my way to work one morning and I saw a flier for the Spier wine festival, so I decided it was the perfect opportunity to make it out to Stellenbosch for the first time. I definitely wasn’t disappointed!

I was able to take the train to Spier for only R17 roundtrip ($1.95), which took about 1 hour. Although the ride wasn’t very scenic (it’s not along the water), it was on time, not too crowded and the perfect opportunity for a nap.

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Spier is absolutely amazing! It’s one of the oldest wine farms in the area. It is a beautiful farm with the winery and a hotel. Although the festival was contained to a smaller area, I was able to venture throughout the winery to check out some of the scenery.

For R70 (approximately $8) I got 5 tickets for tasting wine specifically from Spier, plus unlimited tastings of several varieties of Chenin Blanc from other vendors. All of the Chenin Blanc’s were different and some were infused with lime, pineapple, almonds and other flavors. They were all really delicious!
After wondering around for a little while I decided to embark on deciding what to eat. They had a wide variety of food vendors from drinks, to seafood, to dessert. For some reason my sweet tooth was really calling that day and I had 2 desserts. One dessert was a s’more cookie…heavenly! I walked up to the booth and said hi to the lady. She then proceeded to tell me which cookies were available and was excited that she didn’t have to explain to me what a s’more is after she recognized my American accent. I guess the s’more concept is unfortunately not a thing in South Africa. She was actually from Florida and we talked for a few before I devoured my s’more cookie. I did make up for the excess junk food by having a fruit salad as well before I left.

After enjoying the food I bought, I did a little more eating with some cheese tasting. Cheese tasting is something that I’ve always been interested in, but never explored it very much. I honestly don’t remember everything that I tried, but it was all delicious. I decided to purchase some camembert cheese to take home with me because it was only R15! (Less than $2).
So overall it was a wonderful day and I’m looking forward to spending some more time in Stellenbosch throughout the rest of summer!

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Muizenberg: Hang Ten

It’s finally starting to warm up slightly, so thought it’d be a perfect opportunity to head to the beach.

I don’t think I talked about it before, but let me explain Cape Town weather to you briefly. In one word: Unpredictable. So I knew coming here in August, it would be winter, but didn’t exactly know the true definition of Cape Town winter. Winter = temps in the 40s and 50s with rain, lots and lots of rain, plus strong wind gusts. Until this past week, there were no more than 2 days in a row without rain…and I’m not exaggerating. Many mornings it would start out sunny, but out of nowhere the rain would start to pour. I can’t remember how many downpours I’ve gotten caught in so far.

Another issue with winter is that most houses and offices don’t have heat. So 40 or 50 degrees doesn’t sound that cold, but when it also feels that cold when you’re inside trying to relax at home, it gets old fast. I will admit that I get cold very, very easily, but I don’t think I’m exaggerating here. I met a man who is from South Africa, but lived in Connecticut for several years. He made me feel like I wasn’t crazy for being cold all the time because he said that he generally feels colder here in South Africa than he did in Connecticut because of the lack of heat in many places here.

So needless to say I’m happy that it’s officially spring here, there are days without rain and I can walk around without a coat on. Although there are several beaches around Cape Town, Muizenberg is one of the more popular destinations. It’s rather popular for being a prime surfing location. On the particular day that I was in Muizenberg the Earthwave Beach Festival was taking place. Hundreds of surfers were in the water to attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the most surfers to surf 1 wave.

About 150-200 surfers were in the water, which was a cool sight to see itself. The surfers were old, young, black, white, male, and female, so it was definitely an event for everyone. They would all line up in the distance, while the announcer would give them instructions. There was someone watching from afar near the mountains to monitor the waves. When that person deemed that a good wave was coming, the announcer would ready the surfers, give them instructions and tell them to start paddling. Some rounds were a lot more successful than others, but it was still fun to watch. I’m unsure if the record was broken (which I think is 110) because they use photo and video after the event to count the number of people on the wave to find out if the record was broken. Even if the record wasn’t broken, it was a fun day and I highly recommend heading to Muizenberg if you’re in Cape Town during the spring or summer. There are plenty of surfing schools in the area, to pick up a surfing lesson or 2!

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Penguins, penguins everywhere

Penguins are officially my new favorite animal!

Ok so I’ll tell the full story. Recently I took a short train trip to a cute beachy town called Simon’s Town. Coincidentally enough Simon’s Town is the home of the South African navy and I grew up a navy brat since my dad was a navy pilot. So how fitting that I visit.

The train station is in the heart of Cape Town and is pretty inexpensive. For R28, which is approximately USD 3.35 I traveled from Cape Town to Simon’s Town, which is about an hour ride. The train isn’t exactly a high speed train, but it’s definitely a good little distance.

The scenery on the train trip was well worth the R28. About half way through the trip, the train follows the coastline. What a wonderful sight. Mountains and beach and more mountains and more beaches for a good 30 minutes. I think I mentioned it before, but Cape Town and its neighbors have given me a new appreciation for nature.

A few kilometers past Simon’s Town is Boulders beach where the penguins live! Boulders beach is pretty much in a residential neighborhood, so one would really only go there to see the penguins. You walk through a neighborhood and follow the signs that say “Penguins” with an arrow until you get to the park. The entrance fee is R45 (~ USD 5.40) and follow the paths to the penguins.

The penguin colony began with 2 breeding pairs of penguins in 1982 and has grown to approximately 2,200 penguins recently! The African penguin is still considered an endangered species though. They were so fun to observe in their natural habit. Some fun facts about the African penguin:

1. Because of their donkey-like braying call they were previously called Jackass Penguin.
2. Their diet consists mainly of squid and shoal fish such as pilchards and anchovy.
3. They can swim at an average speed of 7 km/hr and can stay submerged for up to 2 minutes.
4. Their distinctive black and white colouring is a vital form of camouflage – white for underwater predators looking upwards and black for predators looking down onto the water.
5. Peak moulting time is during December, after which they head out to sea to feed since they don’t feed during moulting. They return in January to mate and begin nesting from about February to August.
6. Penguins have very sharp beaks and can cause serious injury if they bite or lunge.

After I left the penguins, I ventured back to Simon’s Town to check out some of the shops and grab a quick bite to eat. I was lucky in that I found a small genuine leather cross body purse for only R190 (~ USD 22). It was made through a community project in a nearby township that helps to employ people with technical skills.

So if you’re ever in Cape Town, I’d highly recommend at least a half day trip to Simon’s Town and Boulders beach! It’s a neat little area with wonderful scenery, good food and shops and penguins, penguins everywhere.

Why yes, I climbed a mountain this weekend

I was able to cross something off my South Africa bucket list this weekend and hiked Table Mountain. What a great experience! Table Mountain is considered one of the new 7 wonders of nature and now that I’ve hiked it I can definitely see why. Not that I’m opposed to hiking, but it’s never been an activity that I’ve sought out, so it was a pretty new experience for me. I would like to think that I’m in decent shape, but the 1.5 hour hike was definitely a good work out.

The weather was absolutely perfect with the sun shining and a light breeze. As I was making my way up to the top I’d stop periodically to take a look back to see how far I had come and those were great moments. Being a part of nature and witnessing it up close and in person was exhilarating. I was literally in the clouds once on top of the mountain.

The hike was pretty steep throughout, but manageable. Once you get to the top there are views of the city and the ocean. There is also a little cafe and gift shop. If you’re not up for hiking all the way up the mountain, you can take a cable car up and down the mountain. Instead of hiking back down the mountain, I took the cable car down, which was a fun experience itself. The cable car actually rotates so you get a 360 degree view while you descend. It was definitely worth paying R100 to ride the cable car down. If you’re in Cape Town I’d say that Table Mountain needs to go on your must do list and this is coming from a person who isn’t always the true outdoorsy type.

Being in Cape Town has taken my appreciation for nature to a different level. The backdrop of the mountains and ocean and everything in between is something that I never get tired of witnessing.

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Similarities and Differences

I’ve heard countless times since I’ve been here that Cape Town isn’t the real Africa, aka Halfrica. That’s pretty true from what I’ve observed so far. Obviously there are plenty of cultural differences, but stepping off the plane, I wasn’t thinking “omg where did I land?” Ignoring the history of South Africa for a minute, at a quick glance, Cape Town generally seems like any culturally diverse city you’d find in the U.S.

As I learn more about the city, its people and its culture I’ll definitely be sure to highlight more of the differences. However, for now, lets just talk about some random every day differences I’ve observed so far. Some of these I knew ahead of time, but some of these you don’t really think about until you’ve experienced it yourself.

1. Doors lock with a key from the outside and inside. The house, the office, businesses, etc…yep they all have locks on the inside that need to be opened with a key. Hello fire hazard! Thankfully it hasn’t happened to me, but some other interns have been locked inside their house or locked inside the office (in between a large wooden door and gate with about 1 inch to spare). So yeah, it’s definitely important to have your keys with you at all times! (Coincidentally, just this morning I got stuck momentarily in between my friend’s front door and gate. She came down stairs to open the door, but realized she didn’t have the key, while I was closing the gate. Luckily her roommate was home with another set of keys, so I was freed rather quickly. I hate to think how long I would’ve been caged in if her roommate weren’t home.)

The gate and door I was stuck between:

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2. My mom will be happy about this one…all houses seem to have at least 3 locked gates or doors to get inside. So again, always have your keys…all of your keys with you!

3. You drive on the left side of the road and the driver’s seat is on the right side of the car. Plus, most of the cars are stick shift. Thankfully I’ve known how to drive stick shift since I was 16 (thanks dad!), so that wasn’t a big deal, plus I’m left handed, so getting used to driving wasn’t too difficult. However, for some reason whenever I cross the road I still have to look both ways really well because I’m not exactly sure which way the cars are coming from. It sure does play a mind trick on me for a second.

4. Light switches to the bathroom are outside of the bathroom and not inside. I don’t know how many times I’ve wondered into the bathroom in the dark looking for the light switch and then being reminded I should’ve turned on the light before I entered.

5. The metric system. I was expecting this one, except for one thing….food labels. Food labels use kJ instead of calories. I’m an avid food label reader and I haven’t quite gotten the hang of it yet.

6. Electricity is pay as you go, especially for renters. We have an electricity box in the house. At any point when it gets low or you run out of electricity you can go buy more at the gas station (or convenience store), but giving them your box’s number. It definitely makes me more aware of my electricity usage.

7. You have to buy plastic bags at the store. This is something the U.S. needs to adapt asap. I guarantee it would cut down on a lot of unnecessary plastic waste.

8. Most businesses close very early or completely shut down on the weekend, especially on Sunday. It takes planning to get some things done, like small errands because stores aren’t as readily available as I’m used to. But so far it hasn’t been too much of an inconvenience.

So while there are clear differences, I still continue to really like Cape Town and can’t wait to explore more and discover even more similarities and differences. Even if you aren’t going to be in a place for too long, it’s good to try to embrace the differences because you never know what you’ll learn.

Lastly, who could dislike a place with beautiful views so readily available?!
Hout Bay:

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12 days


 

 

 

So I’ve been a resident of Cape Town for 12 days now, yay! It was a fun, long, exhausting, and adventurous journey to get here, but I think I’m starting to get the hang of things.

I’ll back up a few days and say that the adventure officially started in Hanover, New Hampshire with orientation for all of the interns. I don’t think any of us knew what to expect but it was an amazing 4 days. We learned about many of the ins and outs of Grassroot Soccer, but also learned about ourselves, each other, and became a family. Many of us keep repeating that we can’t believe we’ve only known each other for a little over a week because it seems like we all bonded right away like long lost friends.

We spent 2 days roughing it in the woods in a cabin with no indoor bathroom and no shower. Then, our accommodations were upgraded to Pierce’s Inn with wonderful meals and hospitality for an additional 2 days. After spending 4 days together it was bitter sweet as a little over half of the other interns were off to other sites in South Africa, as well as Zambia. But thankfully we’ve already made tentative plans to reunite in October.

So that left 9 of us to head to Cape Town. 2 red eye flights and we were going to be there. I wasn’t really nervous, but anticipating how I was going to feel once I got there. The first leg of the flight was 6.5 hours from Boston to London. We had a long 10 hour layover in London, but luckily that left enough time to take the tube into the city and venture around a bit. There was no way I was spending 10 hours in the airport. This whole year I’m taking any opportunities I can, so this was the start of snatching an opportunity up.

I’m not going to lie, London has never been on my top 10 list of places to visit, but it was cool to walk around. I got some fish (minus the chips), a beer and enjoyed the sites. We were there the day after the closing ceremony of the Olympics so it was nice to see some remnants of the Olympics as well.

We had no problems checking back into the airport after our mini London tour and got settled into the flight. It was 11 hours on the plane with little sleep, little room, lots of movies and some turbulence, but we finally touched down 48 hours after we left, at 8 am in Cape Town.

It was definitely a good feeling to say this is my home for the next year. Myself and the other interns just completed our 1st full week of work and I’m still trying to get into a routine, but I can definitely say I like this place.
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The day after we arrived, a previous GRS intern drove us around, mostly along the water and it was nice to get a little mini tour of Cape Town. It was cloudy and rainy, but I still got a nice sense of the beauty of Cape Town.

The 1st few days I don’t think it set in that this was my new home, but after I walked around alone a few times, did normal errands like buy groceries, it slowly hit me. I’m still trying to get into a routine because I’ve definitely been eating too much and not exercising enough, like I’m on vacation, but I have high hopes that this week I’ll get in to the flow of things.

I’m sure this year will have ups and downs, but I remain optimistic and ready to tackle each day head on. Happy journeys to everyone!

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Minimalism

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So I’m all packed up! Actually I’m more than packed up and have already begun on my journey as I sit in Boston Logan Airport finishing this blog post. I said “see you later” to all my friends and family here in the US and the journey is on its way.

Thanks to Craigslist I was able to sell a lot of furniture and other random belongings that I have no use for, but as I’ve been reflecting over the past few days, I still have a lot of stuff. This has kind of been bothering me. All of my stuff fit into a 14 foot Uhaul truck and into 1 small room in my dad’s house, but it still seems like a lot. I’ve packed all my clothes, shoes, accessories and toiletries for the year in 1 large, 1 medium and 1 carry on suitcase. Yet, it still seems like a lot.

No matter what I do, I feel like I have too much stuff. Not to stereotype or generalize, but Americans seem to always want more stuff, bigger stuff…big house, a SUV. I think it’s easy to get used to this, but it can be very wasteful. I will say I’m very thankful to have the opportunity and money to acquire stuff, but I think I need to do a better job about being a minimalist. Some people enjoy decorating their house and collecting items, but I’ve realized I’m not one of those people. So my goal over the next year and beyond is to do my best to not accumulate stuff. I thought I was doing a pretty good job at that, but clearly I haven’t as I went through several boxes of items that I have no use for and hadn’t unpacked from a previous move.

I hate throwing things in the trash to sit in a landfill so I do my best to donate, recycle and reuse, but sometimes it’s inevitable that some items get thrown away. So my goal from now on is to use up all products I have before buying more and donate an article of clothing or pair of shoes for anything new that I buy. Hopefully I’ll come up with other ways to eliminate unnecessary stuff as time goes on. If you have any suggestions, I’ll be happy to listen.

Over the next year I hope to appreciate more and more that stuff doesn’t make me happy, but people and experiences are what I will cherish for the rest of my life.

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