Tuesday, July 05, 2011

In (and Out) of Africa

I spent the next three months in Africa. You can read the full story at www.whereisqt.blogspot.com. Here is the short version:

Africa from regina kruglyak on Vimeo.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Africa in Short

We may or may not have edited this slideshow during a 16-hour flight. Don't judge us too harshly. :) Also . . . disclaimer . . . I didn't write the captions.

Africa from regina kruglyak on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Kwaheri Africa

The next morning, after coming down from our chocolate rush, we had breakfast at Javas--yes again--before heading back to Cape Town. There we had a chill day, shopping and movies (and making fun of Alexis) at the waterfront and Ethiopian at Addis (yes again) for dinner, before heading out for our last hurrah in Cape Town. We started the night back at the Penthouse bar. When that party slowed down, we made our way to Jo’Burg, the hip-hop bar. I was loving the music despite the miniscule dance floor. I met a nice, local girl in the bathroom, who insisted on showing me her moves. I was getting a lesson about looking angry while I danced, when a guy tried to cut in. Next thing I know, they are fighting over who got to dance with me. The girl pushed the guy into a table and I had to talk a bouncer out of throwing her out of the club. I quickly made my way back to the friends I had come with. Meanwhile, Kaitlin and Regina had signed out and Alexis had made a few new friends. Those of us who were still left decided to try out another, huge techno club that some people we had met earlier kept talking about. By the time we made it home, it was already after 3. That did not stop us from staying up to talk to Thembolie (Timbo), the night watchman, who had a very interesting point of view about the political situation in S. Africa. He lives in one of the townships near Cape Town and made it clear that racial tensions are not a thing of the past. It was haunting to hear about what had happened to him and his friends, neighbors, and family during apartheid. It was with that perspective that I went to a Catholic mass with Alexis the next morning. I had been looking for an opportunity to attend church since Kaitlin and I overheard the local congregation singing in Uganda. I was hoping that there would be a lot of singing. There was not, but that did not stop it from being an interesting cultural experience. The preacher (? head honcho) was white, as was most of the congregation. There was a lot of incense. And, perhaps most interestingly, the preacher spoke about how 1 in every 4 Cape Town residents had been imprisoned and what the congregation needed to do to improve conditions in South Africa. Even though we were dead on our feet, after mass and picking up Kaitlin, we headed to Robben Island. Although there were many other types of prisoners at Robben Island, it is most famous for its anti-apartheid political prisoners. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned there from 1964 to 1982. It was very moving to see his cell and the rock pile that he started by Mandela and that was added to by political prisoners each year at their reunion. We were also surprised to see seals and, though we didn’t actually see any penguins, a penguin crossing sign. Later that night, after a nap, we celebrated our last night in Africa with a multi-course dinner at the Gold Museum. The drum lesson was so fun and the dancing was even better, though both made me feel very uncoordinated.

Alex bought a nice champagne to celebrate. After dinner, we had a goodbye party in the upstairs tv room. Alex busted out a bottle of vine from his family’s vineyard. Then it was time to say our goodbyes. None of us could believe how quickly three months passed. On our last day, we ran around finishing last minute errands and getting a pedicure (our feet were seriously nasty after three months of abuse) before the long plane ride home, which we spent editing our slideshow. Once again, I have had the chance to experience a once-in-a-lifetime trip that will forever change me. I am so grateful for my wonderful husband and job, who let me go, and my friends and family, who always support me. I know how lucky I am! Now, back to the "real world."

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Stellenbosch Again

The next morning, Kaitlin, Alex, and I rented a car and headed back to Stellenbosch while Regina went climbing again. It was late by the time we got everything ironed out, it was around noon so we stopped in at McDonalds (two days in a row) before leaving Cape Town. Once in Stella, we head directly to Tokara, one of the vineyards we had missed on our last trip. It had a really cool exhibit of paintings made using red wine. I bought a couple bottles of olive oil. Next we headed to Boschendaal, where we did a vineyard tour and a wine and cheese tasting before heading to the train station to pick up Regina.

From there, we checked into our hotel and tried to find an authentic African restaurant. Apparently the only authentic African restaurant in Stella had closed. We went to Javas instead. This ended up being my favorite meal of the trip. I had a salad with smoked kudu and strawberries. YUM!

That night, at the Stumble Inn, Alex had a mysterious breakout of itchy red bumps that started on his arms and spread to his back and chest. He had not been feeling entirely well since his family was in town so we were all worried. Regina and I both searched the web for a diagnosis and convinced ourselves that he had Bilhzaria (a.k.a. Schistosomiasis or snail fever), a disease caused by parasitic flukeworms. We insisted that he go to the doctor.

The next morning, we went back to Java for breakfast. Then the girls shopped while Alex (finally) went to the doctor. We were so relieved to find out that he only had an allergic reaction and did not have flukeworms (especially since we had been swimming in the same places as him).

That resolved, we headed to do MORE winetasting! We started at Asara, a vineyard we had all been looking forward to. The setting was absolutely beautiful! I may have mentioned this before, but the wine area around Cape Town is even prettier than Napa Valley. At Asara, we started with a chocolate tasting and went absolutely crazy! My favorites were the campari chocolate and the carmadon chocolates, the Muscat wasn’t so bad either. Next, wine tasting (I thought this was the best merlot I have ever tasted) and, to finish, gelato. Mmmm . . . . We ended up spending so much time at Asara that we only had time for one more winery on the way to Franchoek.

We got slightly lost trying to find Fairview, which is known for having both cheese and wine and for offering very inexpensive wine. The detour, however, gave us the opportunity to buy an entire box of peaches and nectarines (buying less was not an option). Alexis would later regret this decision as we teased him endlessly about how peaches, beaches, and bitches all sounds the same with the French accent. Kaitlin and I were so excited to finally find the pickled figs we had been looking for since Wilderness.

After gorging ourselves on wine and cheese, we finally made it to Franschhoek – the gourmet capital of Africa. It did not disappoint. We had a lovely dinner. The food and wine were fantastic. After all of the chocolate and food, Regina and I may or may not have been a “little” hyper and may or may not have tried to play jokes on Alexis and Kaitlin while they were sleeping. Regina spent the rest of the night planning our future.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Table Mountain

There are many options for getting to the top of Table Mountain, the mountain that towers over Cape Town. We skipped the hike and the cable car, opting for my first ever multi-pitch climb. This was one of my favorite experiences of the trip. The official route is six pitches, but our guide, Ross, adds an extra pitch in for fun. With the exception of the extra pitch, I was able to climb the pitches clean. Ross said that I had “cheeky” moves. I think that is a compliment. Even though at times my muscles ached and I was terrified of how high up we were, I loved the constant adrenaline rush and the feeling of accomplishment after each pitch. This will not be my last multi-pitch. This experience was made all the better by the excellent company. I loved that I got to do my first multi-pitch with one of my best friends, Regina. She was a great motivator and amazing to watch climb. Ross is a local climbing legend, and he climbs like it. It was scary how run out his protection was for some of the pitches. He was just so confident, he could probably climb the route in his sleep. Alex is also a novice climber, but you would never know it. He is a natural. The two of us climbed with Ross, and there were several spots where we had to talk each other through the moves. It was very reassuring knowing that someone had your back. Regina climbed with Ule, a doctor from Norway, who joined us at the last minute. He had endless amounts of energy and had us all pushing our limits. The view from the top was nothing short of breathtaking. We were lucky with an absolutely clear day. This was probably due to the wind, which made the last few pitches . . . interesting. It also meant that our intended ride down (on the cable car) was unavailable. Hiking down was still pretty, but I couldn’t climb stairs without wincing for four days afterwards. By the time we made it back to the Penthouse, we had 10 minutes to get ready. We had heard about the South Africa vs. USA soccer match only after the game was sold out. This meant our only option was to somehow find scalped tickets. Most people were skeptical that this would work because scalping is not allowed in South Africa, but we were determined. Alex and I headed down to the waterfront, which is close to the stadium, with a handwritten sign asking, “Extra Tickets?” in hand. After an hour and a half with no luck, we were eventually directed to a spot close to the stadium, but not too close. I had to run to keep up with Alex’s long stride. But, alas, the sign paid off. A man approached us and he had four tickets right next to each other. The best part, he only wanted 20 rand, approximately $3.00 a ticket. They weren’t the best tickets, but we were not in a position to be choosy. We texted Kaitlin and Karen to meet us at McDonalds, Alex’s favorite restaurant, but we ended up having to leave before we got there. The lovely countergirl, Spo, agreed to hold on to the tickets for them until they got there. The game itself was fun, but not exciting. South Africa was doing a much better job of positioning themselves with the ball, but the U.S. scored late in the second half and won the game. We were, surprisingly, not alone in cheering for the U.S. (towards the end of the game Alex cheered for whatever team had the ball. He just wanted someone to score so he could see how the crowd reacted), but still very outnumbered. I was glad that team affiliations are not as violent in South Africa as in Argentina. Maybe it helped that it was a friendly match. After the match, we weren’t quite ready to head to bed so we all went to the Penthouse bar. Alex showed me how to play pool while Kaitlin showed the rest of the bar how to do a beer bong with a vuvuzela. :)

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Stellenbosch and Diving with the Great Whites

Regina and I did very minimal research when we planned this trip. We picked our airline tickets based solely on what was cheapest for the dates we had. Amazingly, we have had great luck with being in the right place at the perfect time weather wise: Kenya for the Great Migration, Mozambique for whale shark and whale season, Etosha for the dry season (when all the animals gather around the waterhole). Our luck was not meant to last, the next morning, our shark dive was cancelled due to wind. We didn’t quite know what to do. We decided to head to Stellenbosch, the heart of South Africa’s wine country, planning to return to Hermanus the next day for kayaking with the whales. By the time we made it to Stellenbosch, it was already afternoon. Kaitlin and I rushed to fit in a few of our most-wanted wineries, while Regina and Alla explored Stellenbosch and did a hike on the wine trail. We made it to Kanonkop, Neetlingshof, and JC Le Roux. The whole area is so beautiful, with rolling hills and mountains peeking out in the distance. The Paul Sauer at Kanonkop was the best wine I had while in Africa, but it was over $100 a bottle so I had to be satisfied with the tasting. It is much prettier than Napa Valley, and the wineries are very well marked. It was a blast having one-on-one time with Kaitlin. She is such a cutie. She is the same age as my little sister. Our favorite winery was Neetlingshof. Though Kaitlin enjoyed the scenery (the cute waiter serving sparkling wine) at JC Le Roux better. Kaitlin bought a couple bottles for us to drink later. Later on, we wandered around the cute shops in the town center and grabbed dinner at an okay Lebanese restaurant. The next morning we got a late start to head back to Hermanus. By the time we made it, the wind had started up again and the whale kayaking was cancelled AGAIN. With a whole afternoon and no plans, we decided to take advantage of the good restaurants. We had a great thai meal at the Gecko Bar right on the bay in Old Harbor. Afterwards, we went shopping, walked around New Harbor watching the whales—this time they were showing off their mad breaching and skyhopping skills, and eating dinner at a forgettable Italian restaurant. We were very happy to hear from Alex that evening. He and his brother, Olivier, who was visiting from France, were joining us for the shark diving. Even though Alex was not feeling very well, he came to meet us when we got back from the restaurant. We all stayed up talking until poor, sick Alex couldn’t keep his eyes open anymore. The next morning, the winds had finally died down enough to go cage diving. Cage diving with the Great Whites was one of those things that I knew I wanted to do from the day we started planning the trip. There was a (very) brief moment when we considered not doing it because some people said that the bait process they use to attract the sharks to the boat makes the sharks associate people with food. As our guide explained, though, the boat tries not to let the sharks catch the bait because then the shark will lose interest and move on. Also, the sharks cannot differentiate the people from the cage and boat. We are all one being to the shark. I am so glad that we decided to go. It was exhilarating. The process was very different than I envisioned. The cage is attached to the side of the boat. Five people at a time are allowed in the cage. You sit in the cage on the surface until the guide yells, “Down!” Then you submerge yourself holding onto a bar and stay down as long as you can or until the shark swims away. We repeated this process over and over again until we were too cold to spend another minute in the water. From the time we anchored, it only took about 10 minutes for a shark to approach the boat. We quickly suited up (the water was freezing!) and hopped in the cage. Despite the fact that we were expecting them, the first time the guide screamed “Down” and we submerged ourselves face to face with a Great White was terrifying.

Our boat was very lucky. We had several Great Whites approaching the boat over and over again the whole time we were there. Apparently the other boats around us had waited over an hour to see any sharks. Then, when we were not in the cage, we sat on the front of the boat absorbing as much heat from the sun as we could and watching the sharks go after the bait. This is where Kaitlin taught Alex about spooning and that spooning can sometimes lead to forking. Except with Alex’s accent, forking sounds like “fucking.” I laughed for almost ten minutes straight during this interaction and it was the basis for many inside jokes during the remainder of the trip. After diving and lunch, Regina, Kaitlin, Alla, and I followed our guide to a spot where the whale watching is supposed to be good. There were no whales, but a whole school of dolphins. Kaitlin and I ran down to the beach as fast as we could. I stopped to put on sunscreen, then followed Kaitlin through the kelp and around the rocks and weird tide break to get out to the open ocean. While I was swimming, I saw dolphins surfacing literally feet away from Kaitlin. I have never seen anyone get that close to dolphins in the wild. I didn’t get as close (dang sunscreen!), but still got within 20 feet, closer than I have ever been to dolphins in the water in the wild. It was a very moving experience, especially for Kaitlin. Later that night, after dropping Alla off at the airport, we met up with Alexis and Olivier for a night out on Cape Town. I was skeptical about what we would find on a Monday night, but it was Olivier’s last night in South Africa. We started at Zulas, which we had almost entirely to ourselves, and ended at Marvel, which was packed! The music was decent and we ended up staying out until 4 a.m. Not bad for a Monday night. Despite the lack of sleep, hangovers, etc., Tuesday was a surprisingly productive, if not uneventful, day. Regina and I had breakfast at a gourmet shop on the Waterfront, bought tickets to Robben Island, obtained packing materials, and bought provisions for climbing the next day. For dinner, we went to Mojitos, a decent Cuban restaurant. Kaitlin won two bottles of wine.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Around Cape Town

In Cape Town, we stayed at the Penthouse on Long Street, which is centrally located and, conveniently, has a rooftop bar. After dropping off the car and saying goodbye to Alex, we walked down to the Waterfront to do some shopping and have dinner. I was very surprised by the types of stores there: Prada, YSL, Mont Blanc, Gucci, and other high-end stores that are way out of my price range. I stuck to Woolworths.

The next morning, while we checked in the car, a very nice older couple offered us their Hop-On, Hop-Off bus passes. The tour itself was not all that exciting, but it was a good way to see all of Cape Town. Cape Town is located under the shadow of Table Mountain. On the other side, is the Swank Camps Bay, where all the celebrities shop and sunbath. It was too cold, though, for any sunbathing.

Instead, we got off at the District 6 Museum, which recounts the process of ejecting black residents from their homes in District 6 and bulldozing their homes to the ground in order to gentrify the area for white Cape Town residents.

That night we ate at the Ethiopian restaurant right next door to the hostel. It was so good and made us regret that we had not made more of an effort to find an authentic Ethiopian restaurant in Ethiopia.

The next morning, we picked up Regina’s sister, Alla, at the airport and headed to Hermanus, famous for whale-watching and shark diving. On our way, we stopped at the penguin reserve

and in Betty’s Bay to do a hike through the botanical gardens and the biosphere. The hike was much more fun than the one in Wilderness, but pretty short. It required three river crossings and ladder climbs. The waterfall was relatively small, but the red water was pretty and the overview of the ocean was pretty. We read later that this color was caused by the Fynbros, plants native to this area of South Africa.

In Hermanus, we walked along the rocky shoreline, easily spotting several Southern Right Whales. We had dinner at Lemon Butta, which was decent. It was the first sushi place in South Africa that we found that actually had eel as an option. Also, it had a true rainbow roll. In other sushi places, the rainbow roll is avocado and salmon. That’s it! Also, most sushi places had salmon, shrimp, and crabstick only. I was very happy to have the options of tuna and eel even if the sushi was only so-so. We finished the evening off with gelato, calling it an early night so that we would be well-rested for shark diving the next morning.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Buffalo Bay and Wildernes

Our first official stop on the Garden Route—other than the McDonalds in George (our first trip to the golden arches of the trip)--was Knysna and Buffalo Bay.
We arrived in Buffalo Bay at the tail-end of the most beautiful sunset, and after checking out the stars and our accommodations, we decided it was worth staying another day just to see the sunset again.

The Buffalo Bay Backpackers was by far my favorite camping spot of the whole trip. We parked our truck right on the beach. The hostel itself had a nice central fireplace, which everyone gathered by. It also had free wi-fi—a luxury after the lack of internet at the campsites in Namibia.

We spent an afternoon shopping in the nearby Knysna. The town was cute and had some adorable shops. After three months of wearing the same clothes, I went kind of crazy.

That night we made sure to make it back in time for the sunset, which was nothing short of breathtaking.

Earlier in the trip, I had seen an Ernest Hemingway quote that said, “I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy.” Thinking about all the mornings I had woken up on freezing cold or miserably hot buses or all of the poverty in Africa, I wondered if Hemingway had ever really been here. But, if you modified that quote to read, “I never knew of a sunset in Africa that did not make me happy,” I would have to agree. The sunsets here are spectacular. The sun moves quickly from low to huge bright-pink orb to gone completely in a matter of minutes. Almost every night of our trip—certainly of the camping portion of our trip—we would drop everything to watch the sunset.

After sunset, we took advantage of the cooking facilities to make curry and the campfire to introduce Alex to the joys of s’mores.
These s’mores were made all the better by the yummy coconut-crusted marshmallows and hazelnut chocolate bars that are standard fare here.

Our next stop was the aptly-named Wilderness. We started by exploring the Kingfisher trail, which involves a pontoon crossing and ends at a waterfall.

(By Regina)

(By Alex)

Although the area was beautiful, especially the birds, the trail itself was kind of boring. It was a boardwalk almost the entire way. We managed to keep ourselves entertained, though, with Alex demonstrating the famous french move, making fun of the bird people (Alex and Kaitlin),
hugging trees, and taking a nap at the waterfall.
(Photo by Regina)

That night we stayed at my second favorite campsite, Wild Farm.

It is a hidden gem that has not yet made it to the Lonely Planet guidebook. We had another amazing campsite at the top of a mountain with ocean views. Among other amenities—satellite tv, free wi-fi—the Wild Farm has a huge garden that its guest can freely pick from. We went crazy pulling beets, carrots, onions, and strawberries. Needless to say, we ate very well that night. And, the next morning, Wild Farm provided the best free breakfast of the trip—lots of fresh fruits, yogurt, and cereal.
We supplemented it with the fresh-baked banana bread we had bought in town the day before. While Regina and Alex explored another trail, Kaitlin and I took a lazy day to journal, download photos, and read.

That night, we ended our journey together with dinner out at the Blue Olive. The sweet-pickled figs with blue cheese were the star of the dinner, but the mussels were nothing to sneeze at either. I made the mistake of ordering the Blue Olive martini, which did me in pretty early. Luckily, I was in good company. It was sad to say goodbye to our truck and Alex not just because we had, had such a good time with them, but also because it was a painful reminder that our trip was coming to an end.