Monday, April 23, 2012

Senekal: A weekend at my roommate's home

On our way to visit Clarens, about an hour and a half from Senekal
Throughout my journey in South Africa there I have been fortunate enough to have a roommate who has consistently showered me with kindness during the many challenges I have endured.  She had invited me to her home in a town about an hour and a half away called Senekal for well over a month now and our schedules finally matched up a weekend in April.
            Traveling is always an adventure but there are certainly times where I wish I had a home cooked meal. I felt so comfortable and at home with my roommate and her family. They are some of the kindest people I have ever had the chance of meeting and accommodated me to the point where I truly felt like I was in my own house. I took advantage of the chance to learn new recipes from her mom like Bobotie and Malva pudding, two very Afrikaans meals which are delicious. I also took the opportunity to listen and learn about her parent’s experiences growing up and living in the Apartheid era and their transition into a democratic South Africa. I have found that everyone in this country has a story and if you are just willing to listen, you will learn more than any text book or class could ever teach you. My roommate’s mom is the epitome of what it means to reconcile and transform your spirit. She spoke to me about what it was like growing up with the propaganda of the Apartheid. She said that what the government was telling her and her family about non-whites was a form of brainwashing. She said that she was ashamed to say she believed what the government said about non-whites. When the Apartheid ended in 1994 and Nelson Mandel became president she made a conscious decision to be open and change. Today she works in the townships with the very same kinds of people that she wouldn’t have worked with if the Apartheid hadn’t ended. She is an exceptional woman and an example of how change is really possible if you keep an open heart.
Bobotie (Ba-boy-tee)

            Her mother is a social worker and we visited a near by township where she works. Townships are places where the government made all the colored and blacks live during the Apartheid. They are on the out skirts of cities and towns and non whites who worked in the cities or towns would have to take taxis and buses to get to their jobs and still do. The government made the townships like this so only the whites could live close enough to walk and enjoy the city amenities. Today, many white people have not visited townships because they have a reputation and stigma for being dangerous and crime ridden. This reputation stems from some truth, but it’s the same truth that can be said for many big cities. I visited homes and churches in different townships and I have yet to meet or experience people who wanted to harm me. I was met with gratitude above all else, because the people were happy to see a white person and a foreigner coming to visit and see a township for themselves. My advice for visiting a township would be the same for visiting other unfamiliar places: common sense. Don’t go into certain areas alone, don’t walk around at night, and use your instincts.
These are some of the backyard structures in the townships in Senekal.
Golden Gate National park, Free State
            Her mother took us to a cute little town called Clarens. It’s a beautiful artsy town, set against the beginnings of the Drakensburg Mountains, a nature lover's niche. It is very touristy and a popular place for guesthouses and weekend getaways. Does this sound familiar? When I visited it reminded me a lot of Boone, but the South African version. There are cute restaurants and lots of art galleries. It is a lovely place and not far from another beautiful place, Golden Gate National Park. The colors and scenery were beautiful. We only spent the day visiting these two places but Golden Gate is a perfect place for a weekend of camping. Maybe next time J

I can’t wait to bring back the recipes I’ve acquired. I’m going to have a South African style dinner party when I get back. (It’s a shame you’ll be abroad Javier!)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cape Town: Love at first sight

A panoramic view of the city from Table Mountain.
Since arriving in South Africa in January, one of the most frequently asked questions, aside from “where are you from?” is “Have you been to Cape Town?”. When I would reply with “Not yet” people would be overcome with excitement and say “You have to! You are going to LOVE it!” I thought to myself, wow, is the city that amazing? Or am I that predictable?

Lion's Head
            It’s safe to say that the answer is yes to both. Cape Town is unlike any city I have ever had the chance to visit. The reason for such a bold and loaded statement is simple: it has everything. I’ve always told my mom that I wanted to take her to all the places I have been and show her around, and when I get the chance to do this I will take her to Cape Town first. You have the best of both worlds with this gem on the coast of South Africa. The topography of the city is, in itself, one of the most unique features. Table Mountain is a massive plateau that seems to come up out of no where. Then there is the distinct Lion’s Head right next to it that glides into Signal Hill or Lion’s Rump. The names are not code for anything. If you look at the silhouette, the hills look like a lion’s head with an arching line, like that of a lion’s back that forms into the rump of the lion. You can do many hikes and have spectacular views of the city and Atlantic Ocean from both of these places. When you finish enjoying your day of hiking you can come down the mountain and enjoy the nightlife and cuisine of Cape Town. There are plenty of art galleries, museums, shopping areas, and activities for any and everybody.  It’s a stimulating city but not over stimulating like New York or London. It has a relaxed mellow vibe that makes you feel at ease and not rushed.

            I was fortunate enough to spend ten days in Cape Town during our Easter break from March 31st until April 9th. I was even more fortunate to stay with a Capetonian (the name for the locals) who I study with at the Free State. We embarked on a 12 hour journey by bus to the city. The bus ride was a pleasure because of the chance it offered to see the other landscapes of the country, which are many. The first day that I ventured out into the city I did one of those big red bus tours. I highly recommend this to help get you acquainted with any major city. It gave me a vast overview of the different areas and I familiarized myself with the general layout of Cape Town.   
The V&A waterfront with lots of shops and restaurants as
well as the Two Oceans Aquarium.
 During my ten days I went to different restaurants, shopped in Green Market Square, visited Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprsinoned for 27 years, and did wine tasting in Stellenbosch. There is so much to do in the city, but even with only doing a fraction of it I really felt like I was able to experience it. The atmosphere is different than Bloemfontein. Notably that it is much more relaxed and open. There are obviously significant factors that contribute to this like the fact that Cape Town is on the coast, is more culturally diverse, and has more to offer to tourist and businesses. I felt at ease and instantly connected with the energy of the city. From the first day I arrived I said that Cape Town is a place I could live in. The Capetonians are such a friendly group of people. I did some exploring with my friend, and some on my own and had  pleasant interactions regardless. 
Robben Island is about a 25 minute ride off the coast of Cape
Town.  This is where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned
 for 27 years. It is now a museum and major tourist attraction. 

A view from Delheim Winery in the town of Stellenbosch
which is about 40 minutes outside of Cape Town.
 Even on an overcast day it was still beautiful.
This region is known for its wineries and vineyards.

The natural beauty, the warmth of the people, and the endless list of things to do will keep Cape Town at the top of my “Favorite Cities” list for the foreseeable future. I still have many other countries and cities to visit but until then #1CAPE TOWN!

Friday, March 23, 2012

1st professional rugby game, Durban, and turning 22 abroad

I've been in South Africa for over two months now. Naturally, two months abroad equates to 6-12 months of life lessons and experiences. Currently I am wrapping up the first half of the semester at school and a week from now will be on my way to Capetown, which is sure to be another incredible experience. 

I am still finding my footing here in Bloemfontein. As the weather is getting cooler, I finally feel like the people are starting to get warmer and open up. If there is any lesson I've gained from this study abroad thus far, it's patience. The atmosphere, in this town and university, is one that I've never experienced before. Now that time is passing I am starting to appreciate what this place has to offer. For instance, I went to my first professional rugby game two weeks ago; the Bloemfontein Cheetahs vs the Pretoria Bulls. It was a cultural experience that I'm glad to have under my belt. The atmosphere was very similar to that of an American football match; People sporting their teams gear, faces painted, belligerent men swearing at the opposition, and the flowing of beer and stadium food. I don't really know the rules of rugby but even so, I enjoy watching it. The sheer strength of these guys is evident when they tackle and push each other around. Men here love their rugby and just like in the States, supporting a team is not just a choice but a lifestyle. 

   There has been a pretty steady workload of tests and papers the past month and a half with no end insight until next week's holiday (This entry is a product of putting off real work). Luckily my birthday fell into the midst of a lull and I was able to go away for the weekend with a friend who is in South Africa from the States. We went to Durban this past weekend. If you haven't heard of Durban I would like to introduce it to you now. It's a culturally packed city on the Indian Ocean coast in the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal. It's the third largest city in South Africa after Johannesburg and Capetown. It's famous for it's port which is the busiest on the continent. Durban is also known for its high population of Indians that were brought over by the British to work the sugar cane fields (there are a lot in KZN). The city is set against a beautifully lush green background of rolling bush on one side, then the wide open Indian Ocean on the other. It was my first time stepping foot into a new ocean. It was like my first day of summer back at the beach. The city has a lot of cheesy, touristy attractions that reminded me of Wildwood, NJ, but there are some cool historic parts that add some class. There is a large mosque which is the biggest in the southern hemisphere in the middle of the city. There is so much to do, the two days there were only the tip of a very large iceberg. It was a great weekend and wonderful way to spend my birthday, exploring a new city with a friend from home. It was definitely worth the ten+ hour bus ride. I hope to make a return visit in the future.
One of many vendors selling all things "African" along the beach front

Art Deco style Hotels along the beach front

The largest Mosque in the southern hemisphere

The Indian Ocean

Turning 22 abroad was very cool, but strange at the same time. Not because I mind the age change, but more about what my birthday has meant for me, in a cultural context. I was born the day before St. Patrick's Day, so since I was young I've been conditioned to associate four-leaf clovers, shamrock shakes, and the annual St. Patrick's Day race with my birthday. Being in a country where none of that is celebrated, I almost forgot it was coming up, and what time of year it was. As I said, I almost forgot, but with Facebook, it's impossible even for your distance frenemies to forget your birthday. It was really nice getting messages and calls from home to remind me that it was indeed my birthday, and St. Patrick's Day was still being celebrated even if there was no sign of it over here. Learning a new context for life is one of the cooler parts of traveling. Here in South Africa it is slipping into Autumn with the days getting shorter, and nights getting colder. I was a spring baby, my birthday meant warmer days, flowers, and Easter. Now, everything I've associated with this time of year is reversed and it's really interesting to switch mindsets. One thing that hasn't changed is having an Easter break which I am definitely looking forward to!

Saturday, March 3, 2012


Dumela! (hello in Sotho). About three weeks ago I was fortunate enough to travel with a friend to the small, beautiful country of Lesotho for a hiking weekend in the mountains with 15 other people. We hiked from one village to another for a distance of 25km (15m) in one day.

Although Lesotho lies in the middle of South Africa, it has a completely different feel to it that's immediately apparent as soon as you cross the border.

My friend and I took a public taxi from Bloemfontein to the border which was about an hour and a half drive for R80 ($11)! That's the cheapest fare I have ever paid to go to another country! The border crossing was also the easiest  and quickest I had ever experienced.

We spent our first night in the capital Maseru. It's a quaint and quiet city, but they do have an Alliance Francais!

The second day we did some sight seeing of the city and that evening we made our way to our beginning destination of Bokong. It was pouring rain with flash flooding, mudslides and fallen boulders along the drive. If it had not been for our cool, calm, and collected driver, plus the fact we were driving a 4x4, we wouldn't have made it.

We stayed in basic huts (no water or electricity) the first night. We woke up early the next morning and began the 25km hike to the Madiba Lodge. The hike was relatively easy until the final descent. We had to descend down the mountain to the Lodge. We reached the edge and could see the lodge down below. From that point it took 3.5 hours to actually make our way to the bottom. It was well worth and extremely rewarding

Most of the hike was like the photo below. Going up and over large hills that never seemed as steep as they actually were. 
 This was a shot of the group when we reached the descent. We scaled down the side and then followed a long line of zig zags and streams.

 About half way down the descent I was able to capture this photo of the waterfall. The torrential down pours the night before graced us with clear skies and intense waterfalls for the day of our hike. 
 By the time we reached the descent it was getting close to sunset. The sun cast incredible shadows in the mountains giving way to photos like this.

Lesotho was a country with amazing people and scenery, I will surely be back!