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Holiday Day 4 – A Sad Day

Tuesday morning, Jacob and I got ourselves to the airport nice and early for our flight to Cape Town.  We flew on Kalula, one of the popular South African based discount airlines.  The airline itself is pretty nice.  It’s no muss no fuss, but they have a good sense of humor, and try and lighten the mood for everyone on board.  For the brief 2 hour flight to Cape Town it was perfectly adequate.

On our descent we discovered, much to our dismay, that on that day Cape Town was very cold, rainy and windy.  Not a great start to a vacation, but whatever.  We got our rental car, and drove the 20 km through very windy and forested mountain roads to our accommodation in Hout Bay.  Rather than stay in a hotel, we opted for self-catering accommodation, which allowed for a lot of space in a beautiful location for a fraction of the price.

We stayed in a 2-bedroom log cabin up in the hills, which rewarded us with stunning views of the hillsides…or at least it would on a not so dreary day.  The cabin itself was freezing when we got there, but after a phone call to our hosts, they came down with a space heater and we were set up for success.

Jacob and I were going to go north into Cape Town to have a drink and a casual dinner that evening.  However, the weather was so yucky that we decided just to stay close by.  We hit the Pick n Pay for some breakfast supplies and ordered pizza to go from a local pizza place.  When we got back to the cabin, we put on a Top Gear marathon, popped a bottle of wine and enjoyed our pizza by the space heater, or R2 as Jacob liked to call it, due to its striking resemblance to a robot.

It was after dinner that I realized that something was going horribly wrong.  I stayed super full after we ate, like nothing was getting digested, and started to feel super nauseated.  I then understood what was happening.  A few times a year, I fall prey to a stomach bug, which my doctor dad now believes might be stress induced.  Sure enough, I spent all night in the bathroom, my body working it’s hardest to empty every last bit of whatever out of my stomach.  This was a particularly nasty bout, and I would have to put it in one of my top 10 worst nights ever.  I was reduced to tears at about 2 in the morning when I just wasn’t feeling any better, and poor Jacob didn’t know what to do.  It did subside eventually, as it always does, and I was able to get about 3 hours of sleep.  This was not the best way to set me up for success for the rest of our trip, as the next morning we were set to go snorkeling and we had 2 fancy dinners coming up the next 2 nights.

Stay tuned to see how I fared…

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Posted by on September 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Holiday Day 3 – Where it All Began

On Monday, Jacob and I headed an hour out of town again to check out where the oldest evidence of human kind was discovered.  The whole area is called Maropeng, and there are 2 sites involved: the Sterkfontein Caves and The Cradle of Humankind.  Jacob and I decided to start with the caves.

I won’t give you a giant history lesson here, but the caves were discovered in the early 20th century and in them, fossils of the oldest remains of humans discovered on the planet.  Which means, as far as we know, that humankind began in Africa.  This, of course, was when the continents were still all joined together, but geographically, Africa’s where it’s at.

At the site, the guide lead us into the cave, which is huge.  It’s 119 steps to get down into the cave and 109 to get back out, with winding paths while you’re in there, and beautiful, expansive chambers.  There are also very tight passages that we basically had to squeeze and crawl through, which allowed my mind to start wandering in the direction of The Descent.  I was pretty glad when we saw the light of day again.

Within the caves, there are still active excavation sites where they are searching for more fossils.  They haven’t found anything older than what has already been found, but you never know in all of that limestone.  There is also a beautiful, yet creepy lake in the cave.  Nobody knows how big it is because the only people who have tried to explore it and size it have not made it out alive.  My university, Wits, runs the cave site now, and they don’t allow anybody to go into the lake anymore, so it remains a mystery.

Once we were done with the caves, we headed over to the Cradle of Humankind site.  Here they have a very cool museum that basically details how Earth came to be what it is today and how humans developed from their earliest machinations to what we are today.  But first, it was lunchtime.  We went to the onsite restaurant, Tumulus, and sat outside on the deck.  It was a clear day, so we got the see amazing views of the rolling countryside.  For lunch Jacob and I shared a Haloumi starter, which is this squeaky cheese that is super popular out here.  Jacob had a chicken and prawn curry and I ordered a Caesar salad for lunch, not sure what I would get, and laughed when my plate was delivered to me.  It was a salad, but definitely not of the Caesar style.  It had greens, tomatoes, cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, and the kicker: pineapple.  There were croutons on it though.  It was, however, delicious.  Jacob and I both had a glass of South African wine, and then we were on to the museum.

The museum starts with a journey from the present to the past, visually depicting the different eras that the planet has gone through on the wall, with some interesting illustrations.  Then, you go on a short boat ride back to the present, which starts you off at the beginning, and takes you through things like the ice age, and volcanoes and such.  A little cheesy, but totally fun.  Best of all, it finishes with one of those vortex corridors that you see in haunted or fun houses, where you walk through a spinning tube of stars so you feel like you’re walking on a slant the whole time.  Those always entertain me.

Another highlight of the museum was actual fossils, including some of the old skeletons that have been excavated.  Humans were really small back then…I definitely wouldn’t have fit in.  After we were done at the museum, Jacob and I drove back into town to Sandton city, which is another big mall so I could find an appropriate dress for dinner in Cape Town.  Attached to the mall is the Sandton Sun, which is a hotel that has a bar called San, which sports a terrace with an amazing view of the city.  We had ourselves a sundowner there before heading back to my room to get ready for dinner.

For dinner, Jacob and I went to a steakhouse called Turn ‘N Tender so that Jacob could get a proper South African steak.  He also had the chance to try biltong and boerewors, and we shared a delicious bottle of South African wine.  It had only been 3 days and we were already getting meated out.  For dessert we shared an amazing Bar One cheesecake.  Bar One is a candy bar, kind of like a milky way, and combined with cheesecake it was heavenly.  Once again we found ourselves exhausted, and rushed home to pass out.

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Holiday Day 2 – Carnivore Restaurant

So, after Jacob, Keri and I had been at the Lion Park all day and seen the big cats eat their lunch, we had worked up quite an appetite ourselves.  We were headed to Carnivore Restaurant, which was only about 10 minutes away from the park in Muldersdrift.  It’s on a giant resort called the Misty Hills Country Hotel, which looks like an all-inclusive that you find in the Caribbean, with 10 different residence areas, 4 restaurants and a spa.  Carnivore was the big draw, however.

To get into the restaurant, you park and walk on a covered bridge through kind of a makeshift jungle and then into the building.  The entrance way is filled with wooden carved statues of old tribal kings and notable South Africans like Nelson Mandela and Shaka Zulu.  Take a few more steps and you find yourself at the top of a grand staircase leading down to the main attraction.

Carnivore has grown in popularity with tourists in recent years, which was helped a lot when it was visited by Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel, which is how I heard about it.  They’ve expanded the restaurant so it now seats 500 people, and is heavily expansive.  However, being a Sunday afternoon in early spring, it was pretty quiet.  We got a nice table on the deck, ordered some drinks, and then the feast began.

Here’s how it worked:  When you walk in, you see a giant board with all of the meats on offer for the day.  They lead you past the giant circular grill where you can see (and smell) all of the meats cooking, and then you are seated.  First thing, you get soup and honey wheat bread.  The soup that day was red bean, and it was delicious.  However, in an effort to save room for meat, we tried to be judicious with our soup and bread intake.  Next, they bring a lazy susan with sauces and salads.  There were different sauces for all of the meat, like horseradish for beef, cranberry for game, apple for pork and mint for lamb, along with the requisite chili sauce.  Salads included the ever popular Greek, a zucchini salad, corn salad and coleslaw.

Then the meat begins to arrive.  The meat is cooked on traditional Masaai swords, and the waiters bring it to the table on such.  Then, if you want whatever meat they are offering, they balance the sword on your plate and carve it right off for you.  It’s amazing.  We tried absolutely everything, which included chicken wings, pork sausages, beef rump, lamb loin, kudu meatballs, kudu sausage, crocodile, and the carved meat of eland, impala, and blesbok.  Everything was delicious, but my favorites were the pork sausages, the kudu meatballs and the eland.  The impala was my least favorite; it was super gamey and tough.

There was a wooden stick with a South African flag on our table, and they kept bringing meat around until we lowered the flag in “surrender.”  However, after that’s done you still get dessert.  We had some ice cream and bread pudding with custard.  We decided that we couldn’t immediately get back into the car and drive for 45 minutes as we were too full, so we walked around the resort a bit.  It’s done in an old school colonial style, with lots of dark wood, leather and paintings and representations of animals everywhere.  It was cool to spend a couple of hours in, but I don’t know if I’d enjoy being a guest there.

Before we went home for the evening, Jacob and I went back to The Office for happy hour drinks, as they serve half price cocktails from 4-7 on Sundays, which ends up being about 3 bucks a cocktail.  We decided we couldn’t pass that up even though we were exhausted, so we grabbed a couple of drinks and then dragged our buggered butts home to an early bedtime.

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Holiday Day 2 – Lion Park

Sunday was Jacob’s first full day here, and we had an excellent day planned.  First thing on the agenda was the Lion Park, which is like a mini game reserve with an emphasis on…lions.  To begin with, we picked Keri up (I was so glad to finally be able to give her a lift rather than the other way around), and had my first experience with Wimpy for breakfast.  Wimpy is mostly about burgers, but Jacob and I had breakfast sandwiches and wraps to start our day off right.

The Lion Park is about 30-40 minutes out of town, and it was nice to get to drive out and see a bit more of Johannesburg and the actual province of Gauteng.  Once you get farther out of the city the landscape gets much drier, more brown than green with low, rolling hills.  It reminded me again of the American Southwest.

Once we got to the park, the first thing that we did was head straight to the lion cubs.  Included in the price of your ticket is the opportunity to get up close and personal with some baby lions, and that is exactly what we did.  They were unbearably adorable, but they weren’t exactly cuddly.  It was clear that they were just putting up with the hundreds of people that came to pet them on a daily basis.  However, they certainly didn’t mind being touched, as long as you stayed away from their head, paws and tail.  Their fur was a bit rougher than I expected, but I have no idea why I thought a lion’s coat would be downy and soft.  The most amazing thing about them is their eyes.  They’re this light beige color, almost matching their coats, and it’s pretty disarming.  This little experience has definitely been one of the highlights so far, and I would have stayed with the cubs all day if I could.

Next activity was giraffe feeding!  You buy a bag of food, and they have a platform set up so you are at the height of the giraffe’s head, and he just eats right out of your hand.  Let me get the obvious out of the way: giraffes are huge.  I know you know giraffes are huge, but you don’t really realize it until you are standing face to face with one and you realize that it’s head is pretty much the size of your torso.  However, the giraffe we were feeding was amazingly chill and gentle.  The way it eats out of your hand is totally weird.  Generally they’re using their tongues to grab leaves of off trees, so they’re used to wrapping it around things, and that’s exactly what it does to your hand.  It wraps its looooong, slimy tongue around your hand to get the feed, which is gross and awesome at the same time.  I would definitely enjoy having a pet giraffe.  There were also ostriches in the enclosure that were looking for some food.  Ostriches, like most other birds, are awkward, aggressive and obnoxious.  They are pretty funny to watch though, and Jacob was the most intrepid out of all of us and fed a few of the ostriches.

We took a short break after feeding to watch a bit of rugby.  The rugby world cup has just started in New Zealand, which is HUGE in South Africa.  It was South Africa’s first game against Wales, and it was pretty tight throughout.  I’m hoping that Jacob and I get a chance to see a whole proper game in Cape Town, because the atmosphere is really fun.

After our break we headed out to the game drive.  There is a mini reserve that you drive through first that has zebra, wildebeest, and all kinds of bok…blesbok, springbok…there are a lot.  After that we headed over to the drive through lion camps, and we were in luck because on Sundays they do public feedings.  We drove through the first lion camp, and to our amazement, there were giant lions right at the entrance as we drove through.  They have no qualms about being close to cars, and as I drove in there was a full grown male lion about 1 foot from my car door.  Seriously amazing.  After that we headed to the White Lion camp, and got a good parking spot for the feeding.  The way that this works is there’s a bakkie (pickup truck) that has a cage built onto the back of it.  There is a guy in the cage, and he’s driven around while occasionally throwing a hunk of meat out of a small opening.  Each lion gets their own piece and they go to town.  It wasn’t nearly as gross or visceral as I thought it was going to be, which was good, because we needed a large appetite for where we were heading next.

Before we left, we also got to see some wild dogs and cheetahs.  Cheetahs have always kind of terrified me.  They are breathtakingly beautiful, especially up close, but they always look like they’re ready to attack.  By this time we were starving so we headed for lunch, which I’ll tell you about in my next post.

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Holiday Day 1 – Jacob’s Here!

On Saturday, Jacob’s plane got in at 8:35 am.  Keri was her usual amazing self and dropped me off at the airport to go fetch him.  Fortunately we found each other immediately, which was a miracle in the sea of people.  There are actually a lot of shops in the airport, including a Woolie’s, so the first thing we did was get some grocery supplies from there and then grab some coffee from Mugg & Bean.  Then we were off to get our rental car.

To put it mildly, I was a bit anxious about my first driving experience in the country.  Even though I learned how to drive on a manual transmission, it’s been a year or two since I’ve had to do it.  Add to that having the driver’s seat on the right side of the car, having to shift with my left hand, drive on the left side of the road, deal with Joburg’s crazy traffic and not having any idea where in the hell I was….yeah, I was nervous.  We picked up the car from the rental place, which is a sporty little red Nissan hatchback.  We had also gotten ourselves a GPS, but because we were afraid that the route it was going to take us to get back to campus would go through town, I decided to just print directions up from Google maps.  I had looked at the map and I was pretty confident that I understood what was going on.

Cut to me sitting down in the driver’s seat.  WEIRD.  However, there was nothing to do but take the first step, and we were off.  Once I got going it wasn’t that bad.  My only issue is that I tend to list to the left because I’m used to the right side of the lane being much further from me, so Jacob was remaining vigilant and warning me when I was about to drive us off of the road.

The problems began when we ran into construction.  Because of the construction, exits weren’t numbered, so while I knew what highways were coming up, I had no idea which direction I would actually be going.  Sure enough, I got on the right freeway going in the wrong direction for about 20km.  Whoops.  Fortunately, we managed to figure it out, turn ourselves around and made it safely back to campus.  I’ve got to say, I did give myself a little pat on the back.

Our first activity was our friend Roger’s birthday party.  He and Greg held it at their house in Victory Park, and it was the perfect day.  Not too hot, nice and sunny, and we were outside by the pool and the bar chatting, eating and drinking all day.  Roger and Greg’s friends were lovely and accommodating, and it was the perfect first activity for a jetlagged Jacob, as not much was required of him.  However, after about 4 hours in the sun, fatigue was beginning to set in.  We headed back to campus so that Jacob could get a short nap in before our activities for the evening.

We went to dinner at a Portuguese restaurant called Nuno’s in a neighborhood called Melville.  Melville is another one of those neighborhoods like Greenside or Parkhurst that has a bunch of bars and restaurants, but it’s a little bit more chill.  We had a great meal.  Jacob tried Mozambique style prawns in a spicy beer sauce.  They were definitely labor intensive but worth it, and he had it alongside his first South African beer, my favorite, Black Label.  It was on draught there and it was sooooo delicious.  I had some grilled fish, and once again was presented with a plethora of sauces with which to accentuate my dish.  We were able to sit outside and have a nice leisurely evening.

After dinner, we headed over to Greenside to meet Keri and Ana for drinks at our favorite, the Office.  We hit some more driving trouble here, as our cracked out GPS took us the wrong way on one way streets and ran us in the dead ends.  Also, we were driving in the dark, and none of the streets were lit, so it was a really special experience.  I definitely got flustered enough to stop paying attention and start driving on the right side of the road for a couple of seconds.  Fortunately, there was nobody else on that particular street, so I managed not to kill anybody.  We did finally get ourselves sorted and to the bar, and indulged in a much needed cocktail.

Jacob was able to hang in there until about 11:00, but the jet lag seriously caught up with him, so we packed up, headed home, and passed out in my veeerrryyyy cozy dorm twin bed.  I can’t wait until we’re in Cape Town and have a proper bed again.  So far this holiday is going wonderfully.

Next up, lions, giraffes, and lots and lots of meat.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Keri’s Birthday

Hey there!  So, I don’t have that much exciting news as I’m nearing Spring Break and schoolwork is getting a bit more intense.  However, I did get to celebrate Keri’s birthday with her last Saturday which was great fun.  Keri and her mom were nice enough to pick me up from the mall and drop us off at our chosen destination for the evening, The Office, back in Greenside.

The place gets super crowded on weekends, so Ana, Keri and I showed up pretty early to get a table which meant we had a long night ahead of us.  However, it was nice to sit while it was still quiet and enjoy cocktails before the night got loud and crazy.  We started the night off with mojitos and caiparinhas and waited for everyone to show up.  One of the girls’ friends who showed up early was Harriet, a lovely girl who is in the middle of med school, so she was very excited to have a night off and to not be on call the next day.

After it hit about 9 o’clock everyone started showing up.  From then on it was your pretty standard birthday celebration.  Lot’s of good friends, a crowded and loud bar, good dancing and lots of drinks.  I’m pretty sure Keri had a great time, and held her own very well, seeing as the poor girl kept getting shots shoved in her face.  We were all exhausted by the end of the night, but I’m just glad that I was able to help her celebrate.

The preceding week had two in-class presentations in it, so I was happy for a reason to let loose.  I am currently procrastinating the book review that is due tomorrow, because I simply don’t want to do it.  I’ll make quick work of it once I start writing, but I’m finding being a self-starter massively difficult today.  I also need to get ahead of myself this week, as next week is spring break.  And…Jacob is coming!  He’ll be here on Saturday and doesn’t leave until next Sunday, so I’ll have lots of fun adventures to relate.

Until then, I guess I better start working…

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Pinkiefest

On Saturday I had the opportunity to go to Pinkiefest 2011, a festival benefiting a charity and also a good excuse to party.  The charity that was benefited this year was an annual rescue center.  The concept is pretty good; you pay R200 (basically 30 bucks) for the all day festival that includes free alcohol, bands, DJs and other entertainment.  It’s set up in the middle of a park so there was lots of space.  Everyone is also supposed to dress in pink, and lots of people got very creative with their costumes.  Overall it was packed with probably over a thousand people, and plenty of pink to go around.

I went with Keri, Ana, and Georgie, and we arrived about an hour after everything got going at 2.  You get a bracelet and a cup.  The cup idea is actually pretty smart; instead of people carrying bottles and cans around and making an awful mess of the whole place, you just keep refilling one cup over and over which cuts down on the mess.  The weather cooperated nicely for us, and it was already pretty hot by the time we got there.  We headed to the tent that was designated the “ladies bar” because it was shaded and less crowded.  This also meant that the bar was tended by shirtless men, and only girly drinks were available.  In this case it meant brutal fruit in strawberry and cranberry flavors because they were, what else, pink.

There were two main areas set up in the festival, the first being the outdoor area with a stage for live bands and a tented area with DJs, a dance floor and other performances.  The girls knew a lot of people there, so we spent a lot of time socializing, drinking, dancing and listening to bands.  The drinks were basic, with brutal fruit and beer being the main options, but there was a very delicious and dangerous punch that was served jungle juice style…straight out of a giant bin on the ground.  When it got a little darker performances started in the tented area so we moved over there.  There was the most amazing beatboxer I’ve ever seen live (except for JT…don’t judge), followed by a group of guys putting on a drum performance that was really awesome.

The action started to die down around 8, mainly because the liquor started to run out, so we decided to head to the next venue.  We miraculously managed to find a cab that wasn’t charging exorbitant prices, and the cab driver, Thomas, was very pleasant.  He played us love songs all the way to the bar.  We went to the Colony Arms, which is just a little pub in the back a kind of strip mall, but it’s very popular and lots of fun.  I think that karaoke was on that night, but I definitely avoided that at all costs…  What I did not avoid was trying cane for the first time.  Cane is basically like rum, and one of the specialties at this bar is the cane train.  In order to construct a cane train, you take a 2 liter bottle, slice off the top, fill it up to a certain point with cane, and then finish it off with cream soda.  Then you drink it.  Here, take a look.  You can see from the look on my face that I knew what I was getting into.  This little baby is not a joke, but it sure does go down easy.

Many of our friends who were at Pinkiefest followed suit and came to Colony, so we kept the party going there and had a great time for the rest of the night.  I kept a couple of the guys entertained by repeating the word “strawberry” over and over; apparently they can not get enough entertainment from my American accent.  At the end of the night we got a much surlier cab driver, but that did not stop us from making him take us to McDonald’s on the way home, as we had barely eaten all day.  Georgie was nice enough to let Keri and I crash at her house, and crash is exactly what we did after we were done eating.

I’m not gonna lie; Sunday was a rough day.  Apparently the word for hangover here is babalas….and that’s what I was.  Very very babalas.  However, I had a great time, and it gave me an excuse to stay in bed and read all day.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in Uncategorized