Jeffrey’s Bay

Our tour of South Africa continues! After Hermanus I made my way up the coast towards Jeffrey’s Bay. I was attracted to this place by its description – one of the top surfing spots in the world. So I don’t know jack about surfing, put I figured if there is good surfing it must be a nice place to swim. Clearly I never took a physics class.

As I woke up to the beautiful sunrise over the vast ocean, I ran for my coat. It was FREEZING! And to make matters worse, there was something that was great for surfers, bad for warm blooded West African adoptees – blustering winds. The winds averaged around 40km with gusts up to 80km while I was there. My hair was a hot mess. The sunrise though was breathtaking. The hostel I stayed at, Island Vibe Backpackers, sat on a sand dune. All you could see was ocean, it was almost like being on a private island.

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Despite the cold and the wind, I was determined to go swimming. That didn’t last long, the water was pretty chilly and the whipping wind made for some really intense goosebumps. Lucky for me, there was a festival in town that weekend. The shops in town were really cute and the stands at the festival had all sorts of different wares from around South Africa.

I went to lunch at a Greek restaurant because it had been far too long since I had some lamb. There was a man and his wife talking to two other guys while I was there. It became clear that the man owned the restaurant. He got into a heated argument with quite a few people and was threatening all sorts of things. I felt like I was watching a mafia scene unfold in front of me. Later an old Greek man came in and when he sat down the whole place seemed to instantly revolve around him. The food wasn’t very good, but the drama was fairly exciting. It was one of the only meals I had in South Africa that wasn’t good.

Side topic, but I never liked olives prior to trying them in South Africa. I hate black olives on pizza at Andolini’s, but I never really tried an olive before. When I was in Stellenbosch I tried their kalamati olives and finally discovered what everyone else on this planet knew – this stuff is good! I can’t wait to make it back to America some day and attack the olive bar at Whole Foods.

So later that I day I went back to the hostel and chatted with one of the workers. He was originally from Malawi and we talked about the differences and similarities between Ghana, South Africa, and Malawi. At some point during our conversation he fell madly in love with me (typical African male response) and tried to get me to come away with him. Unlike Ghanaians, he was actually persistent. I shook him off with a pretty good ninja move and slipped away to my room to go to sleep.

Did I sleep? No. Even with earplugs in, these German tourists came in super late at night, drunk off their asses, and loud. Two of them proceeded to start having sex, loudly, right in front of the door. So, I didn’t get much sleep.

The next day I did pretty much the same thing, roamed around town and watched the surfers strut their stuff. The place was beautiful, but I’ve discovered I’m less of a beach girl and more of a adventure/activity girl. I would rather explore a town than sit on the beach. Unless that beach is in Ghana and I’m desperate to go swimming, which is also code for eat fish cakes.

Jeffrey’s Bay was nice, but I wouldn’t go back again.

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Stellenbosch

Hungover and tired beyond belief, I stumbled into Stellenbosch. After a lovely shower and giant bottle of water, I decided to go roam around the town. I usually have a great sense of direction, but maybe being South of the Equator tripped me up. I’m also a little ornery when it comes to turning. When I’m faced with a situation of going left or right, I always choose left because it is different and the unexpected. Most people will turn right. Don’t believe me? Go to a grocery store, the entire store is built on the assumption that people take right turns. In this case though, turning left wasn’t the greatest idea. I got lost in town and ended up in a seedy section of Stellenbosch. Thank god for GPS on my phone otherwise I might have ended up in some sort of awful situation. YAY TECHNOLOGY. After getting back on the right path, I discovered that the nice part of town comprised of maybe 3 streets. Bummer. I did find a great place for lunch though. I had some tasty pizza with sour cream on it.

Do you have any idea how amazing sour cream tastes when you haven’t had anything even remotely close to it in over a year? Do you have any idea how ridiculous it looks to scrape all the sour cream off your pizza and eat it with a spoon? Do you have any idea how much I cared?

In Stellenbosch, I did find a really quaint little bookshop which oozed old world charm. Plush couch and rickety bookshelves, it almost looked Harry Potteresque. I found the perfect gift for my mom there, one of her favorite books – the Little Prince – in Afrikaans. I mailed it a few days later and it got there the day before her birthday – gotta admit, one of my greater deeds.

I kinda just hung out that day, didn’t really do much. For dinner I had a burger at a pub, the burger had bacon and cheese on it. The cheese was definitely mac and cheese sauce though. Not going to lie, I ate it thinking “why haven’t we Americans figured this out yet? This is amazing!”

The next day was my wine tour. Starting out from the hostel, there was a group of 6 of us, and we picked up two more. Two British girls, a British couple, a Dutch man, and a Swed with an American lady. The Swed looked like someone had just ripped him off a 1900s coal fired train and said “come drink wine.” The day was rainy and cold, which turns out is perfect wine weather.

The first place we went to, Tokara, was really impressive. In the front there is this beautiful metal tree with lots of branches. The branches were covered in words made to look like leaves. I have no clue what the whole meaning was, but it was really interesting. At Tokara we learned a bit about wine making. White wine takes less time to make compared to red. When you make red wine, you keep the skins of the grape after you press it – that’s what gives it the color and the health benefits. Of course the skins don’t make to the bottle. This is probably a “no shit” to everyone else on this planet, but the name of the wine comes from the variety of grapes. I have no idea why I never connected the two. Pinot noir wine comes from pinot noir grapes. It was definitely one of those “oooooooooh. Can you check my hair, did I just grow blonde?” moments. At Tokara we tried 5 wines. We got to pick from a list of about 15, including from the expensive bottles. We learned the proper way to taste a wine too, and now I can look pompous when drinking wine! You twirl the glass to aerate the wine. Tilt the glass toward your nose and take a nice big whiff of that baby. You may repeat. Then take a small sip, making a fish mouth you suck in air to further aerate the wine, basically gargling the wine. Then you swirl it around your mouth to make sure it covers your entire tongue. Then swallow. Of course you have to wait for the aftertaste. Sometimes you can taste hints of this or that, but honestly you are just deciding whether or not it tastes good. It may be the most expensive bottle of wine on the planet, but if it doesn’t taste good what’s the point of drinking it? Wine is supposed to taste delectable and when paired with food, bring out the food’s flavors.

So at Tokara, I quickly discovered that I’m not a fan of white wine. Before this wine tour, I wouldn’t even touch red wine. I hated the taste, I hated dry wine. What was the point of drinking something if it made your mouth dry? Let’s bring this back home for a minute – cashews. Cashews changed my palate. How so? Cashew apples. Cashew apples are high in tannins and very astringent. After eating an apple, you are guzzling water because your mouth feels like it is full of cotton. Over the course of the season, I developed a taste for the cashew apples, including their dry mouth inducing properties. During the hot season, it is a good way to get nutrients and remind yourself to drink copious amounts of water. So, back to Stellenbosch. I tried a few white wines and I just wasn’t loving it. So I tried some red wines and BAM. It was like the gates to heaven opened up and out poured fountains of rainbows and wine. At Tokara, I noted that their Shiraz was really good. Later on, I went to a wine store and picked up a bottle because I regretted not buying one. Another variety I tried was Pinotage – a South African hybrid grape that has been developed to grow in the sandy Southern Hemisphere soils of the Zudafrika. A combo of pinot noir and hermitage, this variety is AMAZING. Shiraz is spicy and harsher (mainly because it isn’t aged as long in barrels. Aging in barrels helps wine to have a smoother, friendlier taste. It doesn’t age as much once bottled – the real aging occurs beforehand. ALSO. Once you buy a bottle of wine, it needs to be stored properly in good conditions, otherwise it will turn to vinegar. A lot of wine really only has a shelf life of about 5-7 years anyway, so just because that bottle says 1986 doesn’t mean it is better.) I really like Pinotage because it just tastes good.

On to the next place, Boschendahl. One of the more famous wine estates in South Africa. No one from our group liked any of the wines. At all the other places, you got to pick which wines you wanted to try, at Boschendahl they picked for you. The good thing about this place though, was we all got to know each other a little better. Turns out the girl I was sitting next to, one of the Brits, used to live in Ghana for a short period of time. She volunteered near Accra. It was great to chat with someone who actually knew about Ghana. Small world.

We moved on to lunch after this place and the entire table grilled me about life in Ghana. They really wanted to know what it was like when I get sick. Why they were so fascinated, I have no idea. It took me forever to eat my burger because everyone kept asking me questions. Afterwards, I popped into a little chocolate shop to grab some truffles before heading to the next wine estate. It was an excellent idea, they were divine.

On to the next one! Dieu Dome. Little place in the hills, they were known for their red wines. Their merlot was excellent and a few people bought a bottle. At this place we got to try 6 in addition to the champagne they gave us upon arriving. You might be thinking, “wow, is she drunk by this point?” NO! They give you enough wine for about 2 or 3 sips, really really small amounts. I felt smiley and happy, but not even tipsy. At Dieu Dome, they had this really cool chandelier with grape bunches as the crystals, it was pretty cool.

The last place we went was Fairview, another famous South African winery. This place was pretty busy, we cozied up to the wine tasting area and had a pretty good looking wine pouring dude (official title). The British girls were flirting with him (thank you!) so he just sorta kept the wine coming. Pouring more than our 6 allowed tastings. I liked a lot of the wines from Fairview, they were pretty damn good. The Stellenbosch Merlot, and Sweet Red were really tasty as was the Riesling. Maybe it is a product of my upbringing, growing up as a kid in Germany spending weekends on the Rhine, but I have some sort of pull towards Riesling. It is the only white wine I like anymore. Anyway, Fairview had a huge selection of wines to taste and we tried a fair few (see what I did there?!). We also did a cheese tasting there and if you have been reading my blog for any amount of time, you will know that “cheese tasting” and “this girl” would probably be all it takes to get me on a date. One cheese we tried tasted like raspberry cheesecake and mild blue cheese all at the same time. I went back for more.

By the time Fairview’s wine was exhausted, so were we. Finally starting to feel the effects of a good imbibing day, I took a nice little nap on the ride back. For dinner, I joined some of my new friends at a local pizza haunt. It was FREEZING outside so we shared a carafe of wine. What else? The pizza was incredible and the place a a true local favorite. We were the only tourists there in a room full of 100 locals. That’s what I love about travelling, seeing what locals do. Where do the locals eat? Where do the locals hang out? You want to feel like you are a part of a town or a city, not that you are just on the outside looking in.

After dinner, I sat by the fire with some of my new friends and we chatted for a while about development, Ghana, the Netherlands, history, and wine. Great conversations with cool people. What a great day.

Cape Town

Upon arriving in Cape Town, I instantly realized that driving on the left is FREAKING SCARY. I wasn’t actually driving, but just sitting in the car. To me it looked like everyone was going to drive straight into us. I was basically bracing for impact the entire time I was in a car.

From the airport, I went straight to the Backpacker – my hostel. It was gorgeous, clear perfect views of all of Table Mountain. I put my stuff down in the room and instantly noticed something I hadn’t seen in well over a year and a half: a down comforter. A big, fluffy, down comforter. All I wanted to do was curl up in it and be fluffy and warm inside my little dorm bed, but no. I had other plans. Which most definitely included Table Mountain.

Taking a cab, I quickly made it to the cable car station for Table Mountain. It was fascinating talking to the cab driver because he was from the DRC (Congo). We talked about fufu and life in “real Africa.” He invited me to his house for fufu, which I declined.

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And away I went.

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The view was spectacular. You could see everything, all of Cape Town proper, the harbour, Robben Island (where Mandela was imprisoned), the beaches, all from up in the clouds. It was incredibly cold, my nose was running nonstop. And by incredibly cold I mean somewhere in the 50s. While up on top of the end of the world, I grabbed a smallsmall snack. A CHEESE PLATTER. Enough said. I drank it down with some sparkling apple juice. I was back in business.

I made my way back to my hostel and changed for dinner. AKA sexy dress time! Before dinner I was meeting my new friend that I made at the Joburg airport for a tour of his hometown. He is Xhosa and from Cape Town so he took me on a sunset drive of the area. If it had been a bona fide date, it would have been pretty damn romantic. He dropped me off at my restaurant and I invited him to join me. He had a really fascinating job – working with GPS/GIS stuff all around Africa. (We have a big GPS push in PC Ghana, so it was cool talking to him.)

Food porn time. The restaurant I went to was called Azure. It was in a 5 star hotel and the restaurant overlooked the setting sun on the Atlantic Ocean. I ordered two starters: a nice squid dish and duck bresola. The squid was so fresh, you could almost smell the salty ocean coming from the plate. It was served with some squid ink, which reminded me of a fabulous vacation I took with my aunt many moons ago. The duck bresola was to die for, so tender and flavorful, not at all gamey. After the starters (which even though my new friend was joining me for dinner, we did not share. Sorry buddy.), they brought out an interesting looking dish that I didn’t order. It was Asian styled spoons with little baby sherberts sitting on top. The waiter then poured some liquid over it and POOF. It was like a genie coming out of a lamp, the entire table was filled with smoke and fog pouring over the sides onto the floor. They win big points for theatrics. Then came my main dish. Oh lord. Oh lord. Porkbelly, with pumpkin and deliciousness. It tasted like walking into a warm, cozy living room with a roaring fire during fall. It tasted like crunchy, falling orange leaves and pumpkin pie in the oven. It was heavenly. For desert, I had the sampler. Bread pudding, fresh fruit, mocha thing, and something else delicious. It was DIVINE. After dinner my friend drove me back to the hostel and I passed out in my fluffy warm bed.

The next day I woke up and took an incredibly hot, long shower. Because I could. Around 8:30 Rob from Cape Convoy Tours picked me up for my full day tour of the area. I booked this tour ages in advance. I read all sorts of raving reviews online and was determined to do this tour. It wasn’t looking promising until a few days before we some other people booked. THANK GOD. I got to ride shotgun, which is basically like being a princess. Obviously. We drove for a while along the most scenic route I have ever witnessed. Winding roads hugging mountains, waving hello to the ocean below.

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The early morning light was hypnotic, the sun looks so different when you are at the end of the world. We came to the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point, literally the tip of Africa. I walked up the mountainside and was amazed by the views. The water was clear and shades of blue I didn’t know existed. There is such history surrounding this piece of rock too. The discovery of Cape Point changed the world. Trade routes, British colonialism, the East India Trading company.

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Hard to believe finding this piece of land forever changed the world. The area of the Cape of Good Hope is completely unspoiled. It looks the same as it probably did in 1496. Complete with ostriches roaming the beach.

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For lunch, I had a seafood pizza complete with mussels and crab for less than 6 bucks. After lunch we moved on to Boulder’s Beach, home of the African penquins!! There is nothing more exciting than seeing wild animals in the wild, in their natural habitat, doing their own thing. I’ll never be able to go to a zoo again.

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We continued on to a couple different sites afterwards, but the weather had changed to rainy, cold, and windy so my mind was focused on just staying warm.

After the tour, I got all dressed up and ready for my big night out. I made restaurant reservations for The Test Kitchen back in June. I read up everything on this place. The restaurant was everything I ever wanted in a meal and more. It was by far the best meal of my life and is going to be very hard to top.

My table was at the counter basically in the kitchen. I chatted with the chefs as they prepared my delicious meals. I watched them pull out all sorts of tricks that I didn’t know you could do with food. I ordered the tasting menu with wine pairings. 11 courses. 11 glasses of wine. They brought a small plate of goodies before my meal that had me salivating. My waiter was incredibly sweet and gave me extra attention because I was eating alone. Everyone was super fascinated by my story of being a single American female living in the bush in Ghana on vacation. There were only a few tables in the place and one table came super late, so I got to hear all the gossip in the kitchen about that group. Loved it. The first dish made me a radish fan. The second dish converted me to turnips. The third dish I almost bought the place. The wine paired with the food was perfect, it complemented each meal and didn’t detract from the food. My favorite was the 3rd and the 5th dish. The 3rd was a rare slice of beef with blue cheese, pears, and all sorts of goodies. The 5th one came in a glass jar filled with smoke, which was released for me and wafted in front of my face. There was a palate cleanser that included a small vial of liquid, the maître d spritzing orange essence over me while I ate, and a frozen holed out clementine. There were two deserts and I ate everything. If it was on the plate, it was in my belly. It was everything I ever wanted. If I could I would eat there every day for the rest of my life. It was spectacular.  If you are ever in Cape Town, you need to eat at the Test Kitchen. You need to experience food that way. It wasn’t just a meal it was art. If you think I’m drinking the Koolaid, then you haven’t tried their Koolaid yet. 2012-09-20_20-39-47_491[1]

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I went home happily satiated and a little tipsy. Over the taxi radio while driving back to the hostel I heard the taxi drivers discussing where to find a classy brothel for a passenger.

The next day was rainy and cold, so I slept in and went to a museum – the Gold of Africa museum. Much smaller than I thought it would be, but interesting nonetheless. Probably because almost all the gold is from Ghana. It is all chieftancy gold regalia. It was really fascinating to see all the Ghanaian artifacts. After that, the skies cleared up and I walked over to the Victoria and Albert waterfront, where I spent the rest of the day. I just walked around the mall there and enjoyed the sunlight. It was like being back in America. Going to a real mall. I enjoyed every second of it. Before dinner, I took a harbor cruise, which gave me great views of Table Mountain. It is so fascinating to see a city from such different elevations. For dinner, I made my way to the One and Only Hotel for dinner at Nobu – a sushi restaurant. The place was pretty deserted, so I had my own private chef basically. An Italian sushi chef. I had chatted with him prior to ordering, so we were working on a good relationship by the time I ordered “chef’s choice” a 5 course meal that was a big “let’s surprise you!” I had told the chef I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana (which by the way wins you major points with anyone. I’m willingly poor and live in the bush, is a great way to get brownie points.). So what does he do? Gives me all the SUPER EXPENSIVE stuff, because he can. You pay a set price and not based on what you order, so he gave me all the cool fish I have never tried. I had a really great salad there too. Turns out you can fry spinach leaves. Do you have any idea how good raw fried spinach leaves are? No. Go google it and find out. I tried angel fish and raw sardines. The whole meal was super classy, delicious, and a true treat.

After dinner, I went back to the hostel and I was invited to dinner and out to a party with all the hostel staff. Sure why not. I went to dinner and didn’t really eat, but just joined them for the conversation. At the hostel bar beforehand, I befriended an incredibly gorgeous local guy, who I then spent the entire night flirting with. Also, suckering him out of a few drinks. Obviously, girl code. A group of the staff,  other guests, and myself made our way to Long Street. Party central. I danced like I always “I JUST WANT TO DANCE” exclaim. I danced the entire night, I didn’t make it back to the hostel until after sunrise. I was pretty damn proud of myself thank you very much.

Two and a half days in Cape Town was not enough. I’m definitely going back at some point in my life, hopefully soon. The people are beautiful, the scenery is amazing, and the food is to die for. What else could you want in Africa?

Start of an Adventure

For some people vacation starts the second they step foot in country. For me vacation started the second I left my village. The bus rides were infinitesimally better knowing I was on vacation.

I hauled my backpack outside to hail a taxi to whisk me away to the airport. It was late at night and that meant party time in the taxi. The taxi driver and I had a mini dance party while sitting in vast amounts of traffic. The traffic was so bad that the taxi driver drove in the dirt near the street and made his own lane.

I quickly checked in and made my way to immigration. I filled out my form and waited patiently in line to see an immigration officer, so I could bat my eyelashes at him, speak in Twi, and get out of the country. While waiting in line, something so Ghanaian happened, I couldn’t help but click my tongue.

A man looking surly walks briskly up to the line, cuts a bunch of people and just squeezes himself in. So the guy he cut gently taps him on the shoulder and asks him what’s up. Guy doing the tapping was an African-American. Line cutter guy (let’s call him Leeroy) FLIPS OUT. Almost punches the guy, gets in his face and waggles his finger, and starts saying the greatest thing I have ever heard: “DO NOT TOUCH ME. You do NOT know who I am. You don’t even know who I am.” Uh oh. Big man syndrome. He continues on being a total pompous ass for the entire queue. He keeps confronting the guy about tapping him on the shoulder. Leeroy was like a bunch of fireworks at Fourth of July just waiting to explode on a bridge in one big glory burn. I was making every subtle Ghanaian noise possible to show my distaste.
Eventually I make it through immigration to go sit and wait at my gate for eons.

Lucky me, the Champions League was on and everyone in the building was watching soccer. Including the security and gate guys. While sitting watching everyone else watch soccer, I people watched the hell out of that gate.

Interesting side note, while sitting down, I noticed the window next to me was open. Could you image having an open window at an airport in America? Haha. Makes me laugh just thinking about it. Anyway, I was sitting there watching Turkish Airlines taxi when suddenly I was almost knocked back by a sudden gush of wind. I was 3 football fields away from that airplane, inside, upstairs, just sitting next to a window and I felt the jet engines. No tro feels like that.

Something very interesting I observered was the lack of females on my flight. There were probably 15-20 of us on a flight of 200+ people. So strange. I slept almost the entire flight, which was fantastic, especially since it was a red eye. Woke up in time to watch the sunrise over the skies of South Africa. Simply stunning.

When we landed I noticed something in the grass near the tarmac. I’m pretty positive it was a jackalope, obviously. Either way, I knew that it was a good omen.

At the airport, I indulged in some good ole fashion BREAKFAST. Bacon, cheese, wheat bread, all the good things you never forget about and pine for all the time. The waiter asked me if I wanted honey with my tea and ice with my water. I just stared at him confused. Wait, ice? That exists? That’s a real thing people put in their water? HOLY SHIT. I walked around the airport incredulous at all the trappings of western civilization. Bakeries, oyster bars, shops, bookstores – all inside an airport? What is this place? This isn’t Africa.

On the mini bus to the actual airplane that connected me to Cape Town, a guy introduced himself to me after seeing my American passport. “Oh, so you’re an American!” No matter where you go, everyone loves Americans. Well, except some hostile states, but whatever. We start chatting and it was great. I told him about Peace Corps in Ghana and life in Ghana. (Mind you this was a long bus ride – relatively speaking). Even the captain, who wasn’t on the plane yet?!, was listening in and staring at me like “BUSHLADY.” Don’t worry I was milking it for all it was worth. I had a captive audience of rich white South Africans. I was telling them stories about real life in West Africa, from a white person. Tell me that won’t make you eavesdrop on a bus?!

Boarded the plane, BULKHEAD SEAT. Holla. And off we went to Cape Town.

I’m baaaaack…

Leaving South Africa was awfully difficult. Leaving Ghana for South Africa was surprisingly easy. I had the best vacation of my life. The past three weeks have been truly unforgettable, breathtaking, inspiring, and simply amazing. I wish I could repeat this vacation over and over again.

My South African vacation was one of those trips in which you knock everything off your bucket list and not a single place in the world tempts you anymore. I’m sure I’ll think of other places I want to go, but going on safari, swimming with sharks, and all my other adventures in between were simply spectacular. My life feels complete. I’m not even 25 and I have already seen and done so much. I’m incredibly privileged to be a Peace Corps Volunteer who had a savings account. Every single penny I saved went to filling my life with grand adventures that I’m sure will forever paint the rest of my life.

So my dear friends, readers, family, and fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, prepare yourselves. I kept a journal for every day I was in South Africa. And I’m going to share those stories with you. So if you kept up with me on Facebook while I was in the Southern Hemisphere, prepare yourself for even more jealous sighs and angry “I wish I was there” exclamations.