Saturday, January 31, 2009

Wine, cheetahs, and such

On Thursday a group of about 12 people went on a bike and wine tour in Stellenbosch, where a lot of South Africa’s vineyards are. It was led by two really awesome guys, one from Namibia and one from Denmark. We had to take an hour long train ride out to Stellenbosch, and when we got there we were assigned bikes (mine was way way too small) and ridiculous helmets. We looked absolutely absurd. The first vineyard we stopped at was called Spier, and even though I know nothing about wine, I really enjoyed some of their red wines. I wasn’t expecting to get drunk, but after five or so glasses I was definitely feeling it. This place was really awesome because it had a sort of Cheetah sanctuary, so we got to see cheetahs. They are really beautiful creatures, especially up close.

We left this place feeling pretty tipsy, making the ride to the next vineyard much more fun. South Africa has no laws against riding a bike while intoxicated, which is a little strange. The next place was called Stellenbosch Gardens. We got to see giant vats where the wine is made, and we tasted more wine in a cool looking room that was formerly a wine cellar. Here I bought a bottle of Cabernet for my mom, which actually turned out to be a bad idea because I had to carry it around the rest of the day. The ride got pretty strenuous after that. A lot of it was uphill, so we were virtually burning away the drunkenness by riding through the heat. The scenery out there is truly beautiful.. There are rolling green hills dotted by lakes and rows and rows of grapes. In the distance you can see South Africa’s incredible mountain ranges. We rode past a couple small villages on the way to the third vineyard where a lot of the African workers lived. It was bizarre to see such poverty directly next to these beautiful wine estates. I have been discovering gradually how much contradiction exists in this country, how much inequality there still is. There is the gorgeous wine region, and then there is the disgusting shacks where the workers live. There is the bustling, modern city of Cape Town, and then there are the townships where people don’t even dare to visit. There is legal equality, but the country is still segregated, and poverty often correlates with race. One of the guides was talking about how workers used to be offered two bottles of wine instead of half of their salary (it still happens in some places). This essentially ripped the workers off, saving the companies money while simultaneously destroying families. He also made a good point: that people seem to be content with current situation, and aren’t really making any serious efforts to change the way things are.

The third vineyard was at the top of a dirt hill where rows and rows of grapes were growing. They seemed to go on and on forever into the distance. We ate lunch at the top at an Afrikaans restaurant, and I had a delicious salami, ham, and cheese crepe thing. We left this place full and really really buzzed (at least some of us did) and riding downhill, swerving through the rows of grapes with the scenery in the background was just incredible. We passed ostrich farms, and during these times I couldn’t help but wonder how anybody could ever choose not to study abroad. It was that kind of experience.

We had to rush to make the last wine stop to catch the train, and most of us passed out on the way back. It was such an awesome experience, and it only cost about 30 U.S dollars. Just ridiculous.

Yesterday a group of us decided to explore Cape Town a bit more. I am getting used to (and even starting to enjoy) the minibus system. We ate lunch at Royale’s (known as the best burger place in Cape Town). Here, again, came a moment of profound contradiction, a blatant reminder that this is Africa. We were sitting there enjoying an amazing meal, and all of a sudden a guy from the street wandered in. He walked up to me and showed me a little note (which I couldn’t read) and when he was shooed away by the waitress, he grabbed a steak knife and started waving it at her. He then started screaming and kicking the door and walls as he ran out of the restaurant. This happened so quickly that we didn’t even know how to respond, and the waitresses didn’t even seem phased. I guess this guy has some mental issues, and luckily he was picked up by the police later. It was just crazy… one moment we are eating and drinking and having a great time, and the next moment this happens.

After walking around the city a bit more, we walked to the waterfront. It definitely is a beautiful area along the harbor; there are shops and restaurants and a mall. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was excessive. That feeling of contradiction came back again. Here is a modern and wealthy area (with a mall that beats more in the U.S) and yet miles away there is terrible poverty. I mean it is definitely a good thing to have tourism because it brings in money and creates jobs. But still, I didn’t have any desire to hang out there. It just felt kind of wrong.

Last night we went to an album release show fro Gaselle, a white Africa “scene redefining” rapper. It was pretty bizarre and seemed slightly racist (or maybe ironic) because he literally wears a white suit and cheetah skin and carries a shaft while Africans dance around him. It was a good time though, and I was very impressed by the opening acts too. The first was a drum/accordion duo, and the second was a sort of African tribal dance/step group. It was such a fun night, and it was good to have some sort of actual cultural experience.

So tomorrow we are taking a trip along the Peninsula and to Boulder’s Beach to see the penguin colony. Our UCT orientation starts tomorrow, so I am going to be super busy. But then we have another week off before classes start!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


The other night a couple of us decided to go to Camps Bay to see this band Goldfish that was supposed to be huge in South Africa. On the way there, we had the most ridiculous taxi experience of all time. This guy, who casually referred to himself as “the Gingerbread Man”, started out harmlessly funny, joking about having 11 kids and not knowing their names. He then transitioned into describing his former gang life robbing people on the trains. Eventually, the Gingerbread Man was telling us stories about how he kicked a bunch of drunk girls out of his cab at 2 am and how he elbowed a guy in the face for “touching his steering wheel.” The climax came when he was talking about how he once considered suicide, joking that “there was a first time for everything” as he swerved dangerously around the curving side rows of Camps Bay. Luckily, we survived and when he told us to “get the fuck out of his cab,” we literarily leapt out. The party was a bit too malibuish for us, so we decided to go to Green Point (in Cape Town), where there was a jazz club. These musicians were absolutely incredible. It was some of the best jazz I have ever heard, and you could really see how much fun everyone in the group was having. Our next taxi driver was a happy improvement from the Gman. His name was Ishmael, nicknamed Ish by us, and he spend a lot of time talking about politics and how we wasn’t going to vote because the ANC party (the one virtually responsible for freeing the country from apartheid) was going to win. Apparently the party, with its rising power, has been corrupting and side parties have formed as a result.

Yesterday we took the minibus into Cape Town. This is the most absurd form of transportation I have ever experienced, It is 5 rand (50 cents) and the way it works is they drive down the main roads hooting and whistling at people. People jump in (they can squeeze about 12-15 people inside) and you get out whenever they stop near your destination. Apparently it is supposed to be dangerous if you aren’t careful, so you have to go with a big group and make sure there are women inside so you know it’s not a scam. Cape Town is bustling during the day. There is SO much going on, and for a newcomer without a map it is difficult to navigate. The streets are sprawling and illogical. We walked past markets, restaurants, and more, constantly asking people for directions. Luckily people here are very very friendly, so asking for directions is pretty easy. We had lunch at a restaurant in Bo Kaap, a hilly Indian neighborhood. It was awesome because it was at the top of a hill and you could see the whole city and harbor from the top. The neighborhood is really interesting. All the houses are adobe looking and are painted with bright, vibrant colors. Apparently this was how the Indians who lived there could identify their houses because they couldn’t read. After that we walked along Long Steet and ran into our friend Silas from Coffee Bay (the guy is everywhere!). We stopped by Long Steet Backpackers and met this really cool guy who gave us advice on the Garden Route and wine tours and shark diving. We are taking a bike and wine tasting tour tomorrow, which is going to be so much fun.

So far, things have been great. South Africa, though, is a different place, and I notice little things all the time. At dinner last night, I was listening t o a couple gay South African students talk about how homosexuality is very repressed in the country, and how you have to be very careful about flaunting it. Also, things seem pretty segregated. In some areas there is a mix, but in the wealthier areas the people are noticeable whiter. I have been fighting against my own inner prejudices here, and sometimes feel ashamed when I get nervous if a poorer African person walks by. This is something that I need to overcome if I really want to learn about this country and its people.

Communication has been difficult. We have wireless in our rooms but it is spotty and expensive. I am sorry that I haven’t been able to talk to everyone as much! I miss my family a lot, and my friends, and my Em, and I wish there was a better way to communicate. But I will have to adjust. It will just take time. Right now I am going to Camps Bay because it is blisteringly hot. Bye!

Sunday, January 25, 2009


So climbing Table Mountain was incredible… the hike was pretty strenuous and oppressively hot (the sun has not let up one bit since we’ve been here) but I really felt accomplished when we got to the top. The views, of course, were absolutely amazing. You can see the entire coastline from the top, as well as Robben Island, the whole city of Cape Town, and all of the mountains and hills in the area. This really is a beautiful area, and I still can’t believe I get to spend five months here. It was sensory overload to the extreme. What’s so amazing about this place is that it has everything: city, ocean, mountains all within miles of each other.

That night there was a party in one of the flats on our street. It was great because students from all over were there. I got to talk to people from Losotho, Bostwana, Mozambiqe, and different parts of South Africa. It is amazing how much national pride many of these people have; everyone one of them was raving about their country and begging us to visit. And the guy from Losotho was most enthusiastic, even though the guide books dedicated a page to it which highlighted a damn and a farm as the main attractions.

The next day a bunch of people when to Muizenberg, a surfer town about a twenty minute train ride away. The train is incredibly cheap (sometimes you don’t even have to pay) and goes all along the coast. It is supposed to be a bit sketchy though, so we were careful to leave before nightfall. The beach was beautiful as always, though not as nice as Camps Bay. It was my first time swimming in the Indian ocean, and the water was much warmer than the Atlantic side. After lunch we went on a search for a Paper Mache house that one of our guidebooks noted as a must see, even though the waiters at the restaurant had barely heard of it). After walking 15 minutes along the railroad tracks, we came across (were thought, anyway) a crappy looking house with no number on it. It didn’t even look like paper mache! It was still fun even though it was kind of a waste of time.

The train ride home was pretty interesting… it was a lot busier at 5ish and we had to wait forever for it to come. We met this pretty cool South Africa guy from Coffee Bay who was raving about the Garden Route, which is along the eastern coast of the country. I think a bunch of people are going to take a trip along the route next week, which should be incredible. When we finally got to our stop, we tried to leave with the rest of the people on the train, but the doors started closing literally within five seconds. So after a couple of us jumped off, the train started speeding up and five or so people with us had to jump off nearly at full speed, rolling and collapsing on the pavement. The looks of the other passengers on train were priceless as they watched our American shenanigans. Though hilarious, it definitely reminded me that we are in Africa. We went to Long Street again that night, which was fun but a little tiring.

Today a big group went to a Rugby game in Newlands at a stadium that fits about 50,000 people. The game was a friendly match between the Stormers (South Africa’s best team) and some British team. People are really into rugby here, and it was cool to see how into it the crowd was even though it was disgustingly hot and I was struggling the entire time to figure what the hell was going on.

So far, this really has not felt like school. We have an entire week off before UCT orientation, and then a week off after that. It’s like a vacation!

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Right now I am sitting on my terrace/porch overlooking our little street. At the top, there is an incredible view of Devil’s Peak, which is one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen. The weather is literally perfect… it’s perfectly sunny with a slight breeze. Finally, after three days of craziness I actually have some time to relax. I just unpacked and it is amazing how much better I feel. The apartment is looking better, and like with most things, we are just going to have to learn to adjust. As one our lecturers said: “This isn’t home. This is Africa.”

So there is a lot to say…on Tuesday me, Will and a couple other people took a cab down to the city to see the waterfront. It was really beautiful, and there were a ton of pretty modern looking shops along the boardwalk. We got dinner at a restaurant overlooking the harbor, then rode back. I was very surprised at how European and wealthy looking the area was. Since I’ve been here, I don’t feel like I have seen much of the real South Africa, which is understandable considering it’s been less than a week. That night, the mentors (who are actually University of Cape Town students) literally dropped us off on Long Street, the busiest bar and club street in the city. We were all pretty exhausted, but we bounced around from place to place and had a pretty good time. It was a Tuesday so there wasn’t too much going on, but it was still good to get a taste of the Cape Town night life.

What struck me about the city, and a lot of people agreed with me, were the homeless. There are children… no more than 10 or 11 years old, begging and harassing people for money. As soon as we got off the bus, one of them yelled out “These people have money!” which made us pretty nervous. The kids literally follow down the street, and if you make the mistake of talking to them (like Moran did) they and all of their friends will follow you and poke you and pull your arm the entire night. It was really sad to see this, and I couldn’t help but think where these kids’ parents were. The answer is pretty obvious, and although it kind of put a damper on the night, I was glad to at least experience some part of the realities of this country. It was kind a shock, but I know that there are much worse areas than the city.

On Wednesday we had a really busy day of orientation. Interstudy is kind of unorganized, but I think we will be able to find our way around pretty easily. We have five months here, so I really am not worried. The University of Cape Town is absolutely incredible. You have to take a shuttle called the Jammie up to where classes are because it is literarily built into the side of the mountain. It is completely uphill, and the backdrop of Devil’s Peak along with gorgeous Ivy-covered stone buildings is absolutely stunning. The class process though is going to be really really stressful, but as I am learning, this is still a third world country, and the university, although stellar, still reflects that.

We learned a lot about what the university has to offer, and I am starting to envision my time here better. I want to get involved with SHAWCO, apparently the largest student NGO in the world. I can’t wait to actually get into the townships, and one thing that is great about Interstudy is that it allows you to do 2 or 3 day homestays in different regions of South Africa. We are going to a church on Sunday, and I am so incredibly excited for it.

A couple things really stuck out from one of the lectures we listened to.

-50 % of South Africans live on under a dollar a day

-4% of South Africans actually go to university, and only 2% actually graduate

The lecturer also described how sociology courses might be heard for Americans, because there is nobody in the world that can understand the complexities of race better than the South Africans. Something else he encouraged was for us to raise our hands and ask questions in class, even though South Africans tend to get annoyed, because, as he said, “You are here for us.” He told us that having Americans in the classroom is sometimes the only opportunity for most South Africans to experience American life.

After orientation, a bunch of us decided to take a trip to Camp’s Bay, which is in all honesty the most incredible thing I have ever scene. It’s a really wealthy area about 20 minutes from Cape Town, with really cool restaurants and cafes. It looks like Malibu or Miami, except it’s build into the side of stunning African cliffs. I couldn’t believe that I was actually seeing what I was seeing. The water was really really cold, but it was good to finally cool off from this ridiculous heat. Afterwards we went to at a really nice restaurant overlooking the sea, and we got cocktails and dinner. The entire trip cost literally 10 bucks, which is just insane. Everything here is SO SO SO cheap, and it’s really difficult not to say that ever single time you buy something. That night we went out in Observatory, another suburb of Cape Town. It was really cool; this one bar, Roots, was enormous and was partially outside. There was a huge beach/sand part with fire throwers, and in one of the other rooms there was like a crazy rave room. It’s really funny because everyone here dances facing the DJ, and everyone has there own little zone where they just go crazy. Nobody really even dances together. What was also great about last night was that we met some actual people from South Africa. So far our interaction have been limited to avoiding sketchy looking people, so it was a nice change. They were really really eager to show us around and they told us a bunch of really awesome places to check out. The South African accent is really different… sometimes people struggle to understand us. But its hilarious to argue over how to pronounce things. One phrase that stands out: having a “jolle” (spelling?) apparently means have a good time. Oh, and all laundry detergent is called Fabric Softener. And tip off or tip up is to fill something. Hopefully I’ll learn more soon. Tonight we are making dinner, so I have to go, and then tomorrow we climb Table Mountain! Wow. Bye!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I wrote this on the plane:

My first view of Africa came on the plane, of course. For the first time it struck me that where I was going was like nothing I have ever seen before. Flying over Namibia, a country bordering South Africa to the northwest, I was overwhelmed by the view. The earthy is parched and cracked, like the sun has been baking it ceaselessly. It’s a vast expanse of nothingness, except for an occasional mountain or hill in the distance. I have not seen a single body of water since crossing over the Atlantic into the continent. There are very few roads, and the only ones I have seen look like dirt lanes. Obviously it’s hard to tell exactly what the land looks like from up here, but there is no question that we are in Africa. For the first time, I understand and feel how incredibly novel this experience will be.

The plane ride has been surprisingly comfortable, considering it is 15 hours to Johannesburg. I slept a surprising amount, which is awesome. The people in my group are great so far… it’s interesting because many of the people I’ve talked to are here for the same reasons as me. Most are political science/ econ majors who simply wanted to do something different. I have been happy to hear that… it has been a sort of validation of how I have been feeling and the real reason why I decided on South Africa. I am trying my best to just experience this; usually I would stress about meeting everyone and planning exactly what as going to happen the moment I got off the plane. But I don’t want to fall into that. I am going to just let this experience happen, which will be new and better.

During one of my few waking moments on the plane I decided to watch a documentary on art in Cape Town, even though I have failed to understand art my entire life. I was actually incredibly interesting… a lot of the artists really try to portray the struggles and misery of the apartheid era, something that is obviously difficult to do. Other more modern artists focus on expressing the conflict of black identity in a society that, while improving, still faces significant racial tension. It will be so intriguing to see how Cape Town has adopted to this modern era.

Something else that has started to hit me is the fact that we, our group, seem to be largely on our own. This is NOTHING like Bowdoin. We aren’t even sure of what we are supposed to do when we get to Johannesburg! In a way, though, that excites me. We aren’t kids anymore…we are twenty and twenty-one year olds and although we are all traveling to a completely new place together, this is going to be an independent experience for all of us. I am going to have to find out for myself what this experience will be, and although that scares me, it also entices me.

Here is more, actually from an email to Emily, but I need to ration Internet time!

so... the plane was actually not that bad.. it was 15 hours to Africa (apparently the longest nonstop flight in the world) but I slept most of the time so it was fine. We all flew together, which was good. My group is really awesome. They are all from different schools and most of them are government majors like me! When we got to Johannesburg it as so so so hot.. like 80 degrees! and we were all sweating like crazy. It was wicked hectic because right when you get off the plane these African dudes swarm you trying to help you with your luggage. Me and will just decided to ignore them but it was really crazy. Then we flew to Cape Town, and it was fun because they gave us free wine! The views from the plane were cool.. at first it looked like desert, really really dry and barren. But South Africa was really green and beautiful. When we got to Cape Town, our group leaders were there and they brought us to our apartments. We are all on our own road, which is cool, but it kind of sucks because me and Will and this other kid Robbie don't really have a good apartment. Its ok but we don't have a shower.. its just a bath tub with one of those shower handle things that you have to hold. Annoying! But we do have a terrace, which is really nice especially since its SO DAMN HOT here. So last night we were all tired but the group people essentially forced us to go out. So we all went to this European style club. Drinks were pretty cheap, and they were 2 for 1! It was actually a really good time and we got to know each other a bit. I am so so tired today though!

So we back and passed out. Today we talked abount internet and stuff. I have a prepaid service which isn't that expensive, so skyping will probably work! Calling is actually quite expensive, but I am still going to try and call you today! Then we walked around the town a bit. We are in Rondebosch which is a suburb of Cape Town, and its really nice. It's pretty European looking, but its cool because there is a cool mix of races. The accent is really cool and everyone is really really relaxed. It is a nice change! It's cool because you can actually see the mountains that enclose Cape Town from our town. Its so so so gorgeous! Tonight they are literally dropping us off at this bar street (Long Street) in Cape Town and letting us experience the night life. I am so tired though! It's also cool because everyone here like loves Obama. They are posters everywhere! Tomorrow we have meetings and stuff and then Friday we are climbing Table Mountain!

Sunday, January 18, 2009


So I leave today around 5:30 PM.. I would expect to be more nervous, but I think the fact that I don't know what to expect has helped. There is no way to compare this to anything in my life... five months in a brand new country in a completely different part of the world. So I guess instead of preparing for the change, I am going to just let it happen.

I'll miss everyone!

Friday, January 16, 2009


This will be my mailing address in Cape Town, for anyone that is interested:

Room 334-5 PD Hahn Building
Chemistry Mall
University of Cape Town
Cape Town, Western Cape
Republic of South Africa

Weather in Cape Town: 75 Degress. My God.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


-Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens (apparently they have outdoor concerts Sunday nights)
-Cape Town Jazz Festival
-Stellenbosch wine tour (even though I hate wine)
-Devil's Peak
-District 6 Museum
-Rhodes Memorial

I really am going to try my best not to stress about seeing and doing everything. I want to enjoy this and not be stressed... that defeats the whole purpose, right?

Monday, January 12, 2009


It's strange... I am so incredibly excited, yet it still doesn't feel real. I know when I get there things will start to click, but right now I am anxious, bored, eager. I feel like I am wasting time, which is stupid because I won't see my family or friends from home for five months.

There's the obvious thing, of course, that I am going to miss her more than I can possibly express. And it's hard because I am sitting here bored for a week and she is already gone. But still, there is something inside me that is certain that things will turn out just fine.

A couple more things:

2.) Hermanus
3.) Robben Island
4.) Kruger (Safari)
5.) Victoria Falls (maybe)
6.)Crystal Pools
7.) Beach... all the time

It's strange thinking about this trip because it is just such a new different place. It's such a long time, and I honestly cannot understand completely how long five months really is. I am excited for change, for growth, for a completely new place, but part of me loves where I'm at right now. Part of me wants things to stay just the way they are. Again, I just know that getting down there will change all of this, but it's difficult when all I'm doing is sitting around wondering, waiting.

Saturday means the end of comfort, complacency. But it also means excitement.