Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cape Town, baby!

Last Friday, A and I took off for Cape Town, our LAST big trip of the year. We met up with A's friends J and B, who were still on their marathon adventure through Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa!

We also met up with their friends J and C, who were wonderful hosts during our week in Cape Town. The very first thing we did Saturday morning was climb Table Mountain, which we kind of underestimated as being no big deal.

Actually, it was so hard that I was forced to wear this extremely dorky visor to protect myself from the sun. I can't believe I wore this visor for any amount of time. It might look good on someone lithe and athletic but it made me look like a soccer mom.

The views from the top were nice. Above you can see Lion's Head in the distance and closer, some people rappelling. And there was a really well-air-conditioned restaurant at the top, too. It was nice to look at Table Mountain all week and be like, I have conquered you.

Sunday was wine day! We headed out to Stellenbosch, one of the wine towns. On the way out, we passed a lot of townships. It was a really strange contrast--the city, which is sort of glitzy and LA-like and these third-world remnants. Not to mention us, zipping along in a private bus on our way to spend an entire day drinking wine.

Luckily, nothing wipes away white guilt like drinking at 10am!

(Don't I look romantic?)

We visited four vineyards throughout the day, plus a fifth one where we had lunch. The scenery was beautiful, and the wine was delicious. We had a lot of fun hanging out with friends of friends and seeing all the different styles of wineries. My favorite was the really old one covered in cobwebs and spiders. Now I want to do this again in Northern California! Of course, the difference is that these tastings were either $3.50 or free, whereas in NorCal they'd probably be a lot more.

(He cut off the top of the champagne bottle with a sword. Whatevs.)

By the third winery, A and I were wine-d out. So we did a chocolate and brandy pairing at the third place, and then skipped the tasting at the fourth place and went for a romantic walk under the trees. Who would have thought wineries are so romantic?

That night, we headed out for a kosher dinner, as we hadn't had any meat since November. I have to say, those chicken kebabs were the most succulent, perfectly seasoned, amazing things I have ever eaten in my entire life. Omigoodness, my mouth is watering. When did I turn into such a carnivore?

The following day we paid penance for our luxurious wine day by visiting Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and other members of the resistance movement were held during apartheid.

(Leaving Cape Town's charming waterfront)

The trip to Robben Island required an especially nauseating ferry ride. As we sped away from Cape Town, it disappeared into the fog, until you could just barely make out the top of Table Mountain. I conquered you, I thought, trying not to vomit.

Once we had our land legs back, we made our way onto a tour bus. The first part of the trip is a narrated bus tour of the island, and we had an awesome tour guide. While he was never held at Robben Island, like most tour guides there, he was a big player in the anti-apartheid movement and he was also a really dramatic and funny host and performer. (I can't remember if he was IKP or PAC. Does anyone who was there remember?)

(Adam looked great on Robben Island.)

After touring the island, which has been used variously as a leper colony, military base, and prison, we headed back to the 20th century prison that was used for political prisoners under apartheid. But not before passing a revolting rotting whale carcass on the beach. This evoked by far the most dramatic response from the passengers on our bus, who all jumped up to take photos of it.

Our guide at the prison was a former prisoner who spent five years living there. I could not get over how new all the buildings were, like wait a minute, you guys JUST did this? You're kidding me.

(I think if I was ever imprisoned I'd be really claustrophobic, because I was claustrophobic just touring this prison, even though we were allowed to leave.)

As we were frequently reminded, the reason so many former prisoners work as tour guides is Not because they want to hang out there more, but because it's a steady job at a time when South Africa is experiencing high unemployment.

This sign was in the bathroom on the ferry. Don't ask me why they felt the need to specifically warn against flushing g-strings. Perhaps the intense emotional impact of a visit to Robben Island causes people to want to rip off their clothing and make love to the next person--white, black, or coloured--that they see, in a orgiastic celebration of racial diversity?

I don't know why they can't just take their g-strings with them afterward, though.

After our morning at Robben Island, we headed to downtown Cape Town, where we experienced the wood-oven-baked pizza and ethnic market offerings of the city. Then some of J and C's South African friends hosted a braai (a barbeque) and we got to have more. kosher. meat.

Tuesday was our last full day in Cape Town and we decided to head down to the Cape of Good Hope. This is not the furthermost southern point on the continent, but it is the farthest south I've ever been.

I wore that pink shirt I always wear in photos for the occasion.

We hiked up to Cape Point, which was just okay, and then took a dramatic and beautiful hike from Cape Point to the Cape of Good Hope itself (no I have no idea what the difference is). On the way, we passed this gorgeous small stretch of beach, where I took dramatic and beautiful photos of cliffs and waves.

In a surprising turn of events, after going down many, many stairs to get to the beach, we then had to climb all the same stairs to get back to the path.

(A and J. BFF. I made A carry my purse.)

On the way back from Cape of Good Hope, we stopped at Boulders Beach, where there is a colony of penguins that you can hang out with! They were really, really silly.

And that was our trip to Cape Town! Now we're back in Gabs (for another 32 days) and just chilling and enjoying being in one place for a while.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tonight at the orphanage I completed (with *some* help from the kids) a 200 piece puzzle in 43 minutes flat.

I'm just really good at puzzles.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Botswana (tries to) gets excited!

Recently, A called Botswana "JV," as in, not Varsity. This has become our favorite way to describe the way things work here.


Yesterday was the biggest soccer game in Botswana's national team the Zebra's history. If they won this game against Chad (apparently they spell it "Tchad" in Chad??), they would for the first time be eligible to play in the Africa Cup.

So naturally nobody knew what time the game started.

There not being any sort of website we could turn to (including FIFA, which seemed equally baffled), we called D, a driver for Penn and soccer buff, who seems to be plugged in to the underground networks that determine soccer schedules. He said it started at 6pm.

With that in mind, we headed for a nearby village called Manyana, where there are some 2,000-year-old cave paintings of giraffes and other animals (photos coming). We joked with our guide that we hoped he got off work in time for the game at six. Not 6, he said. The game was at 4.

On the way home, we stopped at this weird amusement park-resort place (definitely merits its own post) and asked the people working there. 3 or 3:30, they said.

So we started texting. Our Motswana friend R said actually the game was at 5. But our American friend R said no, the game was on RIGHT NOW.

Other people variously suggested 4:30, 5:30, and that the game that was on right now was a re-run of the last time Botswana played Chad.

We finally decided the game started at 4:30 and headed to a bar to watch it. It started at 5.

The feed was direct from Chad, the broadcast was in French and they mispelled Botswana as "Bostwana," and when not skipping and stalling, the video was almost too blurry to follow. There were also no replays, not even when Botswana scored the only goal and the camera missed it. I guess Chad has bigger problems.

But we won and there was an impromptu dance party at the bar, and that's all that matters.

Friday, March 18, 2011

This has nothing to do with Botswana or anything, but it's too funny not to share: China Say Dalai Lama has to Reincarnate

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Two more countries to check off the list

After a couple of weeks of "real" life, we were ready to go on vacation again with some friends. First to arrive were J and M. J went to college with A; M is his lovely girlfriend. We had a great time showing them the iced coffee-related sites of Gabs, visiting the airport to see if their bags would ever arrive, and going to an actually really awesome comedy show that I will cover in another post. I did not take any pictures of them, because they are hideously ugly.

They left after one day to head to the Delta and then my sister E and her husband P got in a few hours later. We took them to Mokolodi to pet a cheetah, ate at Fego, and had a delightful brunch at Sanitas. We also went to our first rugby game! Could not follow the game for the life of me, but I enjoyed beer and sitting very much.

On Monday, the four of us headed up to Kasane, the base for visits Chobe Game Reserve. There we met up with A's college friends B, J, and J, which is when referring to people by their initials became overly complicated and was abandoned. We started our trip with a sunset safari by boat on the Chobe River. It was awesome! Probably one of our favorite activities this year.

Immediately, we understood why everyone says Chobe is the place to see animals. We saw tons of elephants, hippos, crocodiles, baboons, and more.

In the morning, we went on a game drive through the park and saw even more!

Later that day, we headed for the Zambian border. We took the ferry into Zambia (they are building a bridge, but currently trucks must travel one by one on the ferry, which is insane). It was pretty much immediately clear that Zambia is way more African than Botswana. People tried to sell us stuff, the currency was wildly inflated, our Motswana taxi driver warned us that the Zambians would try to rip us off, and in general there was a frenetic energy that is missing in Botswana.

Just when we became convinced that we were really in Southern Africa, we ended up at a restaurant called Fez Bar.

That naturally served Mexican food.

With our understanding of Zambian culture now firmly established, we headed for the falls!

Which were even more impressive when we zoomed out!

We hiked around the falls a bit, and got completely drenched. I seriously have never been so thoroughly soaked in my life. When the mist briefly cleared, we could glimpse the power of the falls. Luckily my sister's raincoat provided some protection for camera, passports, etc, but it took the rest of the trip for everything to dry. Which is partly why I did not take any photos of the Zimbabwe side.

We also hiked way way down to the river (and way way back up again) to see something called the Boiling Pot, a place where different streams of water meet to create an awesome-Lord of the Rings-type tempestuous whirlpool.

That night we started a nightly tradition of playing "Hats" also known as "Naked" which is a Charades-based game. It's great!

The following morning we headed into Zimbabwe for the day. We walked across the bridge to get there, and then hiked around the park on that side. The views were definitely better from the Zimbabwe side...but we still got drenched. Lesson learned.

Zimbabwe was full of tourists, all of whom were us. The tourism police, who apparently are not just people trying to rob you, followed us all around town, and literally wouldn't let us go anywhere without them. That's always a reassuring feeling.

The place seemed dead. But it didn't matter because we only had one place in mind--the distinguished, colonial, creepy Victoria Falls Hotel. We finished off our day in Zimbabwe with high tea and cocktails on the terrace of the hotel, overlooking the view of the bridge you see above.

On our last morning in Livingstone, we went on a walking tour with a guide from the Livingstone Museum. It was really nice to see the town and not just the falls. We asked him to show us the old synagogue, which still has a big Jewish star painted on it. We also bought fabric for a wedding project I'm working on because I've turned into one of those people who is obsessed with their wedding.

Back in Gabs, we FINALLY hiked Kgale Hill, the big hill in town, with the three boys from college. It was extremely hot and difficult, and we ended up hiking in the middle of one of the hottest days of the year. I don't want to exaggerate, but I nearly died. When we finally made it back down, we each drank an orange Fanta, which tasted exquisite. It literally took us all day to get back to normal, as I think we were all really overheated and dehydrated. Would definitely do this hike differently if we ever do it again! There were also giant baboons everywhere!

Saturday night we had a Setswana cooking lesson with our old housekeeper and ate dinner with her family and some of the dermatologists. If you want recipes for Zimbabwean/Setswana food, like spicy beans, spinach, porridge, dumplings, chakalaka, etc., let me know!

Sunday night we headed to jazz at the Gaborone Sun golf course with sister and brother-in-law. It's a fun time. We also went for a tour of the grounds, including a lovely playground where the kids worked off some steam.

On Monday I took E and P to see the orphanage and to get a tour of "downtown" Gaborone...and to eat at Nando's again. We ate at Nando's four times in a week. It was intense. 33 hours of travel later, they were safe and sound at home in LA. Meanwhile, J and B are still traveling (!) in Namibia and are meeting us in Capetown tomorrow. The adventure continues!

All in all, we had an amazing vacation. Traveling with 9 people is the way to go.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Madikwe photo dump

Okay, we're still catching up from February...

After Okavango with the in-laws, the four of us headed for a weekend in beautiful Madikwe, a luxury game reserve just over the border in South Africa. We spent our first night at Thakadu, which was really fancy, and then our second night at Jaci's Treehouse, which was even fancier.

(He's not even thirsty. He's just flirting with her.)

Some of the lions like to hang out on the airstrip, where there weren't any bugs. It was some guy's job to shoo them away when a plane needed to land.

We went on a lot of game drives, and I think we were all burnt out by the end of the weekend, but I have to say I've gained a bit of an appreciation for game drives. It's sort of exciting not knowing what you will see, and I think lions/elephants/rhinos/giraffes/hippos are not boring.

We saw a good number of lions. They were getting ready to mate, which I thought was a little weird. But everyone else wanted to see them mate. I guess it's funny or something.

The places we stayed had really nice bathtubs. Now I want a fancy bathtub, too.

Thanks, parents-in-law, for a great trip!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Is "photo dump" the preferred term?

Okavango Trip Photo Drop

We've got new visitors coming on Friday, so I've got to get through the rest of A's parents' trip! The Okavango Delta is a It's quite pretty. The water flows down from Angola, and bring minerals that end up in the Botswana salt pans (I visited some of these in September!). People go there to see the water, and taking a small, low-flying plane is one of the main activities--also mokoro rides, which I previously blogged.

We were led through the delta by our terrific guide, Judge, who was from the village right next to the entrance to the Moremi Game Reserve. The people who live in the village are a mix of Setswana and San. Interestingly, Judge told me he doesn't mind the word "Bushmen" and thinks that his village is better off outside the Reserve (they were relocated decades ago, unlike the people in Kaudwane, where we went in December).

He told us a story about an old woman in the village. When she was a toddler, the Bushmen were still living in Moremi. They were forced to abandon anyone too sick or weak to travel with them, and her mother was one such person. They left her and her mother in a kraal, and moved on. When they saw vultures overhead, they knew the woman had died, and they returned to collect the baby and moved on. Weird story--why not just take the toddler at the beginning--but anyway, his point was that maybe we romanticize life in the bush a bit and there are some advantages to life in a village with opportunities to capitalize on tourism and advance your family's lot in life through education.

While we visited in the off-season, and the grasses were high, we did see some game, including lots of elephants, some giraffes, zebras, impala, baboons, hippos (out of the water--absurd!), warthogs, etc.

It was also just really, really pretty. The scenery was really different from other parts of Botswana I have visited.

(Elephants! We saw a ton of them.)

(Looking at giraffes makes A's face fatter?)

(Spider safari.)

We flew in and out of our campsite on a tiny little plane. You know how my dad used to work on planes? And even so, one time when I flying with him, right before the plane took off, he said, "I still don't understand how these things get up in the air." That feeling is even more acute when you're in a 6-seater. But we survived, and I was mostly distracted from my anxiety by my nausea.

On to Madikwe!