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13 posts categorized "Travel"

08/07/2011

The AMA-zing team dinner at the Africa Café

The first week of orientation at UCT holds a special event that fosters team bonding, friendship building, and most of all a hungry appetite. The AMA-zing race is a campus wide scavenger hunt that our team of ten conquered even while running up and down the mountain we like to call campus. The prize for first place was an all expenses paid team dinner at the Africa Café in downtown Cape Town, one that last Thursday night we all enjoyed greatly!

We arrived at the Africa Café in style with our team Leader Moyo Ngubula in pre-arranged transport to and from the restaurant. We were escorted to a private room upstairs and started the night off with a delicious selection of local wines and fresh juices.

We were excited to hear that our entire dinner would be a semi-blind tasting as we did not order from a menu but rather were served a variety of dishes the restaurant places on their prepared menu, which just so happens to be on the sails of the centerpieces. The restaurant is based on the idea that one should experience the flavors of Africa all at once and we definitely did! From Cairo to Cape Town and back again the food kept coming and our taste buds were fully impressed.

We sampled seafood, vegetables, and a variety of meat dishes prepared in a countries particular style while the server explained to us their differences and ingredients. One of our favorite dishes? The first course bread plate that included Vetkoek, a fried spongy bread that is slightly sweet, warm, and reminiscent of a delicious doughnut. For both vegetarians and meat lovers alike the meal was a great success.

The Winning Team
It pays to be a winner: The winning team of the AMA-zing Race at Africa Cafe. Photo by Helen Boyer.

Our faces were painted, the staff put on a marvelous show, and hospitality was at its best. This restaurant is truly about experience rather than eating, granted that part is amazing too. Our team had fun catching up and I think I can speak for all of us in saying that all that running really did pay off in the end!

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Iona Musgung is a student from the University of Oregon.

07/26/2011

Wolmunster House's Robben Island Experience

On the morning of 23rd I, along with all 19 members of Wolmunster house, headed down to the waterfront to take the ferry to Robben Island, the infamous Alcatraz-like prison where Nelson Mandela was held for an unfathomable 18 years during Apartheid. 


We survived the nauseating ferry ride and made it to the island where we were greeted by a former inmate of the prison – our tour guide. He told us his story of being sent to Robben Island for involvement in the anti-Apartheid movement. He led us to the kitchen, the very kitchen where he spent five of his seven years cooking for fellow inmates. He showed us a chart depicting the rations that were allotted to prisoners of different races, the white inmates receiving more food than the Coloured people, who received more food than the Black prisoners. 


I was surely not the only student to wonder why a man who suffered such trauma and hardship on this island would voluntarily spend his days giving tours of the prison. Unfortunately no one asked him this question - my biggest regret of the day, despite the personal nature of the question. 


The lesson: always ask the difficult, uncomfortable question. You’ll regret not asking it more than you’ll regret asking it. 


After seeing the prison, we were taken on a scenic bus tour of the rest of the island where we caught a beautiful glimpse of the city across the water, saw a peacock, and spotted some more of our favourite African penguins waddling along the shore.

The ferry back was just as brutal as the ferry there, a result of the immensely powerful winds that literally almost knocked us over. Overall, the tour provided us with some first-hand insight into South African history, enriching our experience as we immerse ourselves in this culture that is so deeply shaped by its recent history. 

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Josh Kriegel is a student from the University of Pennsylvania.

Wolmunster House's Robben Island Experience

On the morning of 23rd I, along with all 19 members of Wolmunster house, headed down to the waterfront to take the ferry to Robben Island, the infamous Alcatraz-like prison where Nelson Mandela was held for an unfathomable 18 years during Apartheid. 


We survived the nauseating ferry ride and made it to the island where we were greeted by a former inmate of the prison – our tour guide. He told us his story of being sent to Robben Island for involvement in the anti-Apartheid movement. He led us to the kitchen, the very kitchen where he spent five of his seven years cooking for fellow inmates. He showed us a chart depicting the rations that were allotted to prisoners of different races, the white inmates receiving more food than the Coloured people, who received more food than the Black prisoners. 


I was surely not the only student to wonder why a man who suffered such trauma and hardship on this island would voluntarily spend his days giving tours of the prison. Unfortunately no one asked him this question - my biggest regret of the day, despite the personal nature of the question. 


The lesson: always ask the difficult, uncomfortable question. You’ll regret not asking it more than you’ll regret asking it. 


After seeing the prison, we were taken on a scenic bus tour of the rest of the island where we caught a beautiful glimpse of the city across the water, saw a peacock, and spotted some more of our favourite African penguins waddling along the shore.

The ferry back was just as brutal as the ferry there, a result of the immensely powerful winds that literally almost knocked us over. Overall, the tour provided us with some first-hand insight into South African history, enriching our experience as we immerse ourselves in this culture that is so deeply shaped by its recent history. 

07/25/2011

Roxy House's Robben Island Experience

Roxy’s trip to Robben Island started off a little bumpy. We all managed to be awake and ready for the car at 11h30, but about a minute into the car ride, we realized that Sajjad (our RA) had forgotten the tickets. We had to turn back to the house to get them. 


After that minor hiccup, we made it to the Waterfront with plenty of time to spare and were able to walk around a little bit and get coffee. Unfortunately, many of the girls in the house had to fight aggressively with the harsh winds in order to walk.


While waiting on line for the ferry, we saw the Mr. Apartheid puppet and the famous quote by Ahmed Kathrada hanging on the walls as a little preview to the Robben Island Museum. The quote set the tone for the apartheid museum that we were about to see. 


Our first stop at Robben Island was one of the communal bunk rooms. Our tour guide, who was a former prisoner of Robben Island, explained to us the conditions and experience of an average prisoner. He showed us the identification and meal cards that each prisoner received and explained the blatant discrimination that was practiced against blacks, even in prison. 


The Black prisoners were given less food and worse consideration than the Whites, Coloureds, and Indians. 


We then went to the kitchen, which was a small room that housed about sixteen or so vats, used for cooking. Our guide explained that you could apply to get a job in the kitchen as a prisoner, but you had to be very disciplined because if you took an extra piece of meat, someone else would not eat that day. 


The next stop on the walking tour was to the famous 466/64 cell where Nelson Mandela was kept during his time on the island. One of our housemates, Donald (who is very tall) could hardly fit through the doorway. It is incredible to imagine that Nelson Mandela stayed there for eighteen years. 

Robben1
Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island.


Next, we boarded a bus and a different guide took us to the Leper Graveyard, the exhibit on Robert Sobukwe who was the founder of the Pan-African Conference. He was kept in solitary confinement for six years on the island.

Next, we visited the limestone quarry where captives had to spend 8 hours a day digging and crushing the rocks that were used to build the roads on the islands.  


The ferry ride back to the waterfront was quite a surprise. No one warned us that it would be like a scary roller coaster, but fortunately, no Roxy resident got seasick—the sign of a successful day! 

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Julie Zuckerbrod is a student from Duke University. 

 

05/16/2011

Amy Herrmann's and Ariana Verdu's Trip to Mount Kilimanjaro

Kilimajaro 1
This is not simply a story about climbing a mountain. My story, or our story I should say, is one of two friends who took on what is arguably the most physically challenging undertaking either of us has ever attempted in our lives to date. It is not only that. It is a story of a friendship itself and its evolution through an experience.

I can count the number of people I trust on one hand. It’s not something I’m proud of. Some people consider their lack of faith in others and misanthropic cynicism to be a redeeming quality, one to be celebrated. I used to be one of them, and part of me that still considers emotional detachment an achievement still holds on to that semblance of former self.

Yet, at the same time, I consider my inability to trust others among my worst faults. It is in all its poetry, sad, and something I’ve tried for a long time to change about myself. But people don’t always make it easy which is why when you find someone who does, it is especially important to write a lengthy blog entry, submit it to the CIEE program webpage, and make their ears turn red. This is not simply a story about climbing a mountain, but most of it is.

 Sunday- March 27th, 2011

“Polé, polé,” Shabaz said. “No need for that now. Save your energy for the summit.” I smiled to myself as we hiked through the misty rainforest, and flashbacked to weeks earlier when Ariana and I walked into Quinton’s office and hesitantly asked if there was anywhere we couldn’t go for Spring Break. When we shed light on our projected plan to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, he laughed a big booming laugh, smiled at us and said, “Lovely! Remember, ‘Polé, pole.’”

 The phrase means, “Slowly, slowly” as we soon discovered, which has some troubling implications given the fact that I’m a native New Yorker and not prone to walking at low speeds. Ariana too charges forward with a purpose, even on the most leisurely of strolls. Our guide Shabaz noticed this early on and constantly attempted to remind us, “Polé, pole.”

 2 Months Earlier…

 

Mercedes smiled kindly at me and looked at Ariana with the authority of a mother attempting to lay down the law to a somewhat belligerent child.  “We don’t need to know where you are every minute of the day, but I’ll make you a deal. If you tell us when and where you’re travelling, and you don’t do anything stupid, you can go to Spain for Spring Break senior year.” Ariana and I looked at each other in disbelief as my mom nodded her approval. We were sitting across from our mothers in Rockefeller Center at The Sea Grill— my favorite restaurant in New York City— two days before we were due to leave for Cape Town. It was about time our mothers met. Three years of college, the prospect of a semester together in South Africa, and a housing lease with both our names on it for senior year in Los Angeles gave way to the realization that we were sort of close friends. Fast-forward two and a half months to my email inbox and you can see countless messages that begin with, “I had a lovely lunch with Ariana’s mom today!”  But, I digress. The guilt of leaving my mother behind is somewhat appeased by the happiness I get from seeing she’s making new friends, and both Ariana and I are pleased to see that our mothers get along well (we definitely take credit).

Back to dinner, where that offer was the last thing we expected to hear.  We grinned at each other, both thinking the same thing: It was time we made sure they realized we weren’t joking, (a common error). Unsure as to whether or not the promise of Spain would apply to our planned trip to Mount Kilimanjaro, we braced ourselves and began with, “Well actually, we do already sort of have this one plan that you kind of do already sort of know about…”

My mother has learned to expect these things from me. After the better part of the past year spent travelling the Middle East and North Africa alone, sneaking into the West Bank, jumping into a cab from Jordan into Syria, and things of that nature, she’s come to learn that when I have a plan, she’ll be hard-pressed to dissuade me. That doesn’t stop her from gasping and interjecting her favorite use of my middle name when she thinks I’m doing something insane: “[sharp inhale] Amy Lynn!”

And so it goes. Ariana and I had each had it in our minds to climb Mount Kilimanjaro for months, and a collaborative conversation through blackberry messenger last summer settled it.

A1: “So, what are your thoughts on climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for Spring Break?”

A2: “Very positive.”

And then came the realization that we had some serious getting-in-shape to do. Training was rigorous and entailed waking up at 5am most mornings to work out at Boot Camp in the weeks leading up to Spring Break. Long walks uphill every day toned our legs and going for runs prepared our endurance. It wasn’t uncommon to see us wearing hiking boots walking around campus or sitting on our beds lifting weights. Our social life was limited, as we often chose to stay in and sleep early so we could wake up early, but for the first time in a long time we felt healthy and truly considered the trek a viable reality. We’d been researching different companies and routes for months. From what we were told, the most difficult part of the climb was not actually the physical hike itself, though to be certain it is absolutely challenging. Instead it is the altitude sickness that affects nearly every climber in some capacity, and many don’t take the proper time and steps to adjust their bodies to new heights.

Not summiting was not an option. We had been planning this trip for a long time, amazed that as the months seemed to pass, the possibility became probability, and probability morphed into reality. We were excited, and we found ourselves sitting across from a travel agent booking our trip to Moshi, Tanzania. We chose the Marangu Route and gave ourselves 6 days for the climb, adding in an extra day of acclimatization. Both of us have histories of Anemia, meaning there are fewer red blood cells, and therefore less oxygen in our bloodstreams. We were unsure of how the lack of oxygen at higher altitudes would affect us, so we decided to make it a 6-day climb instead of the 5-day, the latter of which many people prefer.

We spent the following weeks putting maximum effort into preparing our snack foods for the hike, and ensuring we had proper equipment. My favorite moment was at a hiking store in Claremont when we were trying on thermal underwear.

A: “Excuse me sir, does this underwear fit the right way?”

Fits of giggles promptly ensued. Seemingly each step we took towards our trip made us giddier and slightly nervous. Did we pack enough? Did we pack too little? Do I have enough socks? Do I have my passport and vaccination card? Are we actually in shape enough? Oh no, we leave tomorrow…..

Friday- March 25th, 2011

“I think all we did today was eat and sleep. And travel from Cape Town to Kenya.”

5:30am dawned early and Ariana and I enjoyed the private joke that waking up before the sun rises is no longer that absurd to us. We’d been doing it for weeks at Boot Camp. A cab ride and 1 delicious chocolate chip muffin later, a stopover in Johannesburg where there were gourmet chocolate truffles to be tasted and Hӓagen Dazs ice cream to be consumed (all with the notion that we’d soon be working it off), and we arrived in Nairobi to a man holding a sign for “Antony Holtman and Ariana,” (no last name). Needless to say he was looking for two men, and henceforth I am known as Antony.

Saturday- March 26th, 2011

Ten minutes out of the city center found us driving precariously on Kenyan roads (on a bus that might have tipped over at any given moment) and happening upon a green landscape sprawled for miles, dotted with clusters of small houses and convenience stores roofed with corrugated iron lining the roads all the way to Tanzania. People yelled across to each other in Kiswahili, a large portion of which I surprisingly can understand because much of the language is derived from Arabic. We drove all the way from Nairobi to Moshi, Tanzania, where we stayed at a quiet but beautiful hotel that operated in conjunction with our tour company. We met others who would be climbing the same route as us—an Australian girl name Zoë whose name quickly became Zoo (in Tanzania I was known as just “Herrmann”), and a couple from the Czech Republic.

We were briefed on the journey, discovered it would be a private climb for me and Ariana, and were informed we would be unable to shower for the next 6 days. After our briefing we rented equipment because surprisingly I really didn’t bring my ski pants to South Africa. It would’ve been cool if we could look exceptionally bad-ass climbing Kilimanjaro but really, these clothes are much more our style (bright purple and blue pants that I’m pretty sure you can see from the bottom of the mountain). We also got gigantic sleeping bags suitable for -25 degrees Celsius weather, neon ski poles, rain jackets, and mismatched gloves. All I wanted to do was organize that storage room. Afterwards we ate dinner at the hotel’s all-you-can-eat buffet. Sidenote: telling a bunch of med students that you’re allergic to a fruit while simultaneously eating it is amusing.

Sunday- March 27th, 2011: 8 km/3 hours/1,840m — 2,720m to Mandara Hut

Apologies in advance to anyone who does not find the account of the next several days amusing. Keep in mind that we were severely exhausted, semi-delirious, and low on oxygen for most of it.

We were picked up from the hotel early by our guide Shabaz and his team of porters and assistant guides, transported to the Marangu Gate of Kilimanjaro National Park in Moshi, and started our hike through the rainforest to Mandara Camp around mid-morning with Godlistens (because when he speaks, God listens). Among those starting out on the same route was a group of really old and tiny Japanese men and women who began each morning with a series of group exercises and stretches. My favorite is the butt-swivel, which entails putting your hands on your knees, bending your legs ever so slightly, and rotating your butt. I can honestly say I adore these people.

Highlight of the day: Having a Tanzanian guide from another company flirt with you, your attempt to run away gracefully, and subsequently falling face-first on the floor.

Czech Man: “What are you doing?”

Me: “Oh. Just bleeding” (as I wash away the substantial amount of blood leaking from my knee).

And then the Czechs painted me green. I’m not joking. They had this “medicine,” which I’m convinced was just green food coloring designed to sting that they claimed would help my knee heal. I don’t really know what it did, except that I kept it covered for the next few days in order to avoid the “Oh YOU’RE the girl who fell at base camp one!”comments (to no avail), and now a week later, my knee is a multicolored disaster.

Quotes:

Shabaz: “You have smiling faces. From this I can tell you are going to make it.” (The attempts at subtle positive reinforcement were endearing).

Guide: “Dinner is in 5 minutes.”

A&A: “I’m sorry….WHAT?”

Let me tell you everything I ate on Day 1: eggs, bread, fruit, pancakes, chocolate, muesli, granola bar, cake, 2 meat patties, 2 samosas, 2 boxes of juice, an apple, peanuts, bananas, popcorn, biscuits, tea, soup, potatoes, fish, spinach, more bananas, and peanut butter.

The goal was not necessarily to lose weight, but to be in shape. Granted, we need the energy but I think we’re headed in the wrong direction here…

Monday- March 28th, 2011: 12 km/5 hours/2,720m — 3,720m to Horombo Hut

2am: It was a new and foreign feeling to wake up in the middle of the night as the result of severe dehydration.  It was frightening and something I had never experienced before. Uncontrollable shaking and nausea was unchartered territory, but Ariana awoke when I did and stayed up with me to help, suggesting that I drink water- it would either help, or it wouldn’t hurt. So I did and thankfully it alleviated the physical distress as well as the mental (my first thought being, oh NO I have to go back down now). The rest of the night passed uneventfully, except with the general question being that if it was that cold at such a low altitude, how cold would it be at the summit?

We awoke to the assistant guide bringing us “welcome bed tea, and warm water for wash,” which became an every-morning occurrence. After breakfast and packing we began our hike to Horombo, which was a much longer, steeper hike than the day before. We changed environments from walking in the rainforest to hiking through heath and moorland. This is one of my favorite parts about hiking Kilimanjaro— the biological diversity and variety of flora and fauna at each level.  The huts at each camp are all the same- small triangular buildings posted a few feet above the ground on stilts, with 4 mattresses— 3 inside lined against the walls on the floor and one bunked on top of the other at the back. They’re small but perfectly comfortable, if a little cold. The mess hall is relatively large and everyone sets up meals there with their individual guides. Ariana and I are abnormally messy on this mountain. Either we’re too exhausted to function like civilized human beings, or we have devolved back into Neanderthals because there is really no excuse for the amount we spill everywhere. It’s also severely distressing how much we’re being fed, and our guides appear not to notice that we have issues with portion control. If you put food in front of us, we WILL eat it. For dinner we thought we had it easy with soup, rice, beef, and some vegetables. And then they brought out pancakes, chicken, and bananas. With food we began our dosage of Diamox (acetazolamide) which is meant to quell the symptoms of altitude sickness. Many climbers take it to avoid the dizziness, headaches, nausea, and more gross effects of travelling to such high altitudes (which I won’t go into), but some consider it cheating. For our part, we were not going all the way from Cape Town to Kilimanjaro to not make it to the top. We took the medicine.

Tomorrow would be easy, so Ariana and I stayed up a little later and gaped at the stars for a few hours. Where I come from, if I see two stars, it’s an enchanting evening. That being said, there is absolutely nothing that can compare with star-gazing on this mountain above the clouds. It’s a moment where everything else in the world becomes unimportant and you simply feel small, but in a good and comforting way.

Quotes:

Shabaz: “In all my years I have never seen someone walk like you two. You’re like jets. Do you know what jets are?”

A: “You feed me too much.”

Shabaz: “Thank you.”

Man checking us into the huts: “Oh, you’re a student. We sell beer here!”

A:”That’s okay, thanks though.”

Man: “Students that don’t like beer? Oh, that’s no good. No good.”

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011: Day for Acclimatization- 8 km/2 hours/3,720m — 4,100m

Ariana’s sleeping bag broke last night. When we get back down to our hotel I’m going to pick a fight with someone. It sounds bratty and in actuality I’ll be nice about it, but renting faulty equipment, especially when it’s this cold is absurd to me. The dried fruit in my muesli is frozen.

The Japanese group surrounded us today and wanted to take pictures with us, and Ariana invented peanut butter & jelly porridge pancake rolls. It’s been an eventful morning. Seeing what other people are served for meals is always interesting. I wasn’t sure how I felt about seeing a sizeable group being served watermelon for breakfast. My first thought was, oh NO! Some poor porter had to carry an entire watermelon up Mount Kilimanjaro. I suppose they’re used to it—it’s truly amazing how they can carry your big bag up the mountain to the camp running, while simultaneously balancing cooking equipment, food, and their own supplies on their heads. And they still get there hours before you.

After breakfast we hiked about an hour up to 4100 meters just to acclimatize. We ended up at a spot called the Zebra Rocks which, true to their name, are black and white striped rocks. The hike was only an hour but we definitely felt a change in the altitude and had to take it a little slower than normal.

Quotes:

A: “Now that’s what I call a Thanksgiving breakfast!”

A: “You look like a penguin. In the best way!”

Wednesday- March 30th, 2011: 12 km/6 hours/3,720m — 4,703m to Kibo Hut

6:30am: coldcoldcoldcoldcoldcoldCOLD.

I sneezed today. If you know me at all you know that only bad things can happen from sneezing on a mountain. We haven’t even reached the most difficult part of this trek and already I am a bruised and bloody mess. The next 24 hours are about to be rough.

We woke up really early to start from Horombo through an alpine desert to Kibo Hut, the last accommodation before beginning the summit journey. It started becoming very difficult to breathe and we had to go slow, which was hard because it got really cold as the day wore on. We also began to see people coming down from the summit. It was nerve-wracking to hear how many people didn’t make it, and seeing people we knew coming down having not made it to the summit was disheartening. At this point, it was more about mental preparation than anything else. We arrived to Kibo around 1pm, were immediately fed lunch, and told to go to sleep.

2pm:

Me: “Ariana are you awake?”

Ariana: “Mhmmm.”

Me: “It’s snowing.”

Ariana: “What?”

Me: “It’s snowing.”

Ariana: “No.”

This is a sick joke. We slept four hours and were awoken again at 6 for dinner (also, a sick joke). We ate reluctantly in our sleeping bags, knowing we would need the energy. Did I mention how cold it was? Shabaz came in to go over our equipment with us. My summit outfit included 2 pairs of liners, 2 pairs of thick socks, boots, 2 pairs of thermal bottoms, 1 pair of normal pants, ski pants, an undershirt, 2 pairs of thermals, a t-shirt, two sweatshirts, a winter ski-jacket, a hat, 2 pairs of gloves, and a scarf.  I set all my clothes out (while in my sleeping bag, I might add), then attempted to sleep until 11pm.

Thursday- March 31st, 2011: 32 km/9 hours/4,703m — 5,895m to Uhuru Peak & Return to Horombo Hut

Now, the funny thing is that our guides told us they woke us up at 11pm. Everybody is supposed to leave Kibo and depart for the summit at midnight. Somehow Ariana and I didn’t leave until 1:40am, and we still can’t figure out why, but we made it to the top just as everyone else was leaving, meaning had we left when they did, we would have arrived at the top incredibly early.

The summit night was long and exhausting. Shabaz was sick so he didn’t come with us and instead replaced himself with his 2 assistant guides, neither of whom spoke English, and one of whom got severely sick along the way. Ariana and I spent the better part of the night in role reversal, taking care of our guides and each other as we trekked upwards in the cold darkness.

We began the hike from Kibo to Gilman’s Point, which is the most difficult part of the entire journey. It was dark and icy, and the sky was backdropped by lightning beneath us as it snowed from above. It was too cold to stop walking, so we hiked long distances until we found caves to sit in and drink black tea. Neither Ariana nor I felt any effects of the altitude change except for difficulty breathing, and we reached Gilman’s Point (5,685m) in 4.5 hours. We rested briefly while it snowed lightly and realized we had lucked out with the weather. Because it had snowed and rained the afternoon before, the night was warm(er than it should’ve been) and not windy.  The snow was cold, but kind of pleasant.

After Gilman’s we began the 2-hour hike to Uhuru Peak, the tallest point in Africa, situated on Kili. We walked through the snow in the mountains, overlooking the crater at the bottom and the glaciers off to the sides. It was beautiful and surreal.  That part of the hike was nowhere near as difficult as Kibo to Gilman’s because it was much more level. We watched a breath-taking sunrise from Stella Point at 5,756 meters and then walked slowly the rest of the way to Uhuru Peak—5,895 meters. We took our pictures, hung around for about 10 minutes because it was too cold to stand still any longer than that, and began our descent back to Kibo, using ski poles for balance. Strangely enough, both Ariana and I got awful headaches on the way down (in addition to the severe physical pain, exhaustion, and mild delirium). At one point Ariana actually fell asleep sitting on a rock.

Me: “Ariana”

Ariana: “Mm?”

Me: “You can’t sleep here. We have to get off the mountain.”

Ariana: “Oh.”

The hike to Kibo was long and essentially involved skiing through mounds of dirt the whole way down because the freeze had melted from the night before. It was awesome. No one ever lets me play in dirt anymore. My hiking boots will never be the same though.

We returned to Kibo amidst many handshakes and congratulations, and promptly fell asleep. We were woken up for lunch 2 hours later, spent it eating in our sleeping bags, packed, and left for Horombo in the snow. Apparently we had earned ourselves a reputation on Mount Kilimanjaro. Our guide told us everyone was asking him about his 2 American clients who walked like jets, laughed hysterically during meals, and hopped around in their sleeping bags to pack, instead of acting like normal human beings. I blame it on the altitude.

Friday- April 1st, 2011: 20 km/7 hours to Marangu Gate

“Poa kichizi kama ndizi!”— “Crazy cool like a banana!”

The way down was short in comparison with the time it took to hike up Mount Kilimanjaro, but it was hard on the knees and feet. We were picked up at the gate and transported back to the hotel where we returned our equipment, showered for a very long time, and slept, and slept, and slept some more. The next days were uneventful and involved lots of resting and a long bus ride back to Nairobi where we caught a plane and returned to the land of essays, homework, and technological communication.

Bringing it Home:

I got lost in my thoughts, walking down Kilimanjaro. I wondered how it would be to return to civilized society, where people use utensils to eat and shower daily. There’s something fun and natural in eating with your hands. And there’s something fun in being caked in mud for days on end.

But mostly I wondered how the past week had affected my relationship with Ariana. I reread my journal entries from the trip and realized that everything I had written included her in some capacity. My thoughts were from a personal perspective, but they involved her absolutely. I know myself and the way I form relationships with people. In the past when I’ve started to feel too close to someone, I pull away because I’m more comfortable keeping others at a distance. But I didn’t do that with her, for a couple of reasons I suppose. First, you can’t exactly run away from someone on Kilimanjaro, and second, even if you could, I don’t think I’d want to. There are very few people I would have attempted this trip with. It’s an intense physically and biologically challenging experience where you don’t know what to expect from your body. Spending a week straight with someone in confined quarters necessitates being close with them, being tolerant of one another, and potentially seeing someone at their weakest state of being, which can counter everything you know about a person.

Having a friend who will stay up in the middle of the night with you when you’re sick in below-freezing weather is invaluable. Walking arm-in-arm because only one of you has a headlamp, or helping each other go a few more feet when you can’t breathe in thin air, or sharing medicine and clothes and snacks to ensure that you both make it to the top are memories that stick with a person because they remind you of someone else, and the sacrifices they made for a friend.

There was not a moment over this break that Ariana and I spent apart, and that was a true test of our friendship. In addition to constantly amusing one another (because in reality, Kilimanjaro was no laughing matter), we both made sacrifices for the other and we both worked to ensure that we made it to the top. Not summiting was not an option.

And in closing, I’d just like to say, “We packed abnormally well for having no idea what the hell we were doing!”

Kilimanjaro 3
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Amy Herrmann and Ariana Verdu are students from the University of Southern California.


03/24/2011

Mzoli's (Meating People)

Cape Town has quite a few landmarks that need to be visited when you are here: Table Mountain, the Kirstenbosch Gardens, Robben Island and quite a few others. All of the above are world famous – they appear on postcards and memorabilia, they saturate the tourist market to the point of boredom. They are worthy, of course, but after a while they become the same old same old. For any visitor’s stay in Cape Town, particularly any CIEE student, I recommend exploring the popular attractions that don’t make it to the postcards – the urban legends that are either too local or so small to the point that they almost go unnoticed. Cape Town is full of them – one of these urban legends is Mzoli’s, the premier braai spot in the Mother City.

A braai in South Africa is the American equivalent of a barbeque or a cookout. Equivalent in this case is a hazy term to use because equivalent means “the same as” – the two events are similar but so different they cannot be compared to each other. Barbeques always look to calm and ordered on television, so family like, so…organised. Braais on the other hand are anything but. Especially when you are at Mzoli’s.

Located in the heart of Gugulethu, a South African township, Mzoli’s is a small braai house that has specialised in cooking meat to such perfection it has become a Sunday addiction. Anyone who has ever been in Cape Town has heard of the legend that is Mzoli’s, most have tried it, all have come back again. Celebrities, sports stars, musicians, students, tourists and all of the different kinds of people in between have all at some point visited Mzoli’s. You just never know who you will bump into on a Sunday afternoon.

Coupled with the atmosphere, the music and the location, Mzoli’s is one of the few ways of finding out how the other half of South Africa live – the less well-off half. Living in areas like Rondebosch (where the majority of CIEE houses are), you could become complacent and think that all of South Africa is middle class and well off. It is not. South Africa is a place of economic and social disparities carrying their own history and social diaspora – each level is unique and different, no two are the same. A trip to Mzoli’s shows all of this.

It would be presumptuous to call Mzoli’s a restaurant. Restaurants have formal rules: you sit, you order, food is brought, you pay and you leave. No such thing at Mzoli’s – you are allowed to bring anything you want barring the meat which you have to buy there, seats are at a premium from ten in the morning onwards, you have to actually go and order the meat yourself, take it to the cooks and come and pick it up yourself. It is a self-service type of thing that only Mzoli’s has managed to perfect thus far and that I presume, is one of the reasons it is so popular. It is a restaurant, meeting place, club, social scene and a few other things I have yet to find words for.

Mzoli’s is loud. Loud in ways that you cannot imagine – the music, the people, the dancing, everything. Every sense you possess is put to the test by being in the small space – it is not oppressive, just different. It is as South African as anything you will find in the country. Only having been to Mzoli’s once before, I thought that this time around would be similar to the last – it wasn’t. Far from it. Each Mzoli’s visit brings new perspectives, each trip makes you a little more intuitive – it is definitely more than just having a good Sunday braai.

CIEE Cape Town allocates community action plans (CAPs) to each house. The purpose of these CAPs are to allow each house in the program to do something together, to bond and explore Cape Town together. My house, Devonshire (the coolest one of the lot, if I say so myself….*round of applause*), visited Mzoli’s this past weekend. Though it was not completely new for me, it was still an eye-opening experience as a whole because I had to explore the place through my house’s eyes. Besides the meat, which we completely pigged out on, it was a relaxing end to the week to just sit down, be around people we liked and reconnect.

There is much more I could tell you about Mzoli’s...but I won’t. You need to come and see it for yourself. 

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 Rémy Ngamije

 University of Cape Town: Postgrad LLB (Law)

 Resident Assistant


03/17/2011

Home for the Weekend

The modern day nearndathal

By the time you are in your fifth year at university (Yes! That’s me…*awkward silence*) you have become accustomed to fending for yourself. You are so used to hunting down all the stores with the cheapest bargains, all of the markets that have food that will not keep toilet paper companies in business and restaurants that prepare good and affordable food, not because they fear being sued when the proverbial fly is in your soup, but because they can and want to. You will also have learned how to make your last pair of underwear last an extra three days (Trust me, this is a handy skill to learn) and what to do when the electricity bill has not been paid because the sneakers you saw in the shop window were just too good. In short, after about a year in university, you will be a modern day Neanderthal – suited for survival by the skin of your teeth and the swipe of your credit card. You don’t really need your Mommy for anything. Maybe to top up your bank balance but that is about it.

The point I am trying to make perhaps, is that after a while, you stop being a Momma’s boy or a Daddy’s girl – home is that other place you go to when there is nothing else left to do when your university closes. It sucks, but it happens. At least, to me it did.

The feeling of being away from home, being away from people who genuinely want to look after you, spoil you just for the sake of it, be around when you need conversation and provide that “home sweet home” feeling came down in ways I could not imagine when CIEE Cape Town treated its students and RA’s to a homestay weekend in Ocean View, a coloured community near Kommetjie in Cape Town.

Ocean View

The history of Ocean View, is a tumultuous one – the inhabitants were uprooted from their original homes in Simonstown during the apartheid era and relocated to Ocean View under the Group Areas Act – an infamous piece of legislation that had whole families removed from their homes to suit racial segregation policies. Coupled with poverty, close family groups and the legacy of apartheid, a strange culture has thrived in Ocean View – it is the South African “other”…but not disconcertingly so. It is different…but not really. It is home…but not quite.

Carrying a negative stereotype, Ocean View is an area of the greater Cape Town metropole that is spoken about but rarely experienced. It’s tag as a dangerous area is unwarranted – I have lived in places where even the flies can rob you, Ocean View is not such a place. True, it is not the most affluent of areas, but it is a place that is heartwarming in a way that cannot be described. The people are shaped by their environment and they in turn shape the world around them – like any other place in the world, it is a give and take relationship that is not understood by people who have never been there. Most of the stereotypes are just pure ignorance.

With just two days in Ocean View, students were given the opportunity to see how the other half lives – escaping the bright lights of Cape Town where one can be deluded into thinking clubbing and studying are the only things to do. It was shift in perspective, in expectations and personal convictions that I think affected most, if not all of the students in positive ways. From personal experience, I don’t think I will look at coloured communities in the same way again.

Home for the weekend

Home for me, is a place that is characterised by fights with my brothers about who gets the last slice of cake, who gets to hold the remote (because that controls what is watched) and perpetual avoidance of chores and other mundane activities mothers dream up to keep their boisterous sons occupied. For once though, and with all due respect to my family, I was allowed to live my fantasy of being an only child.

And boy, was it good.

For all of two days, I was the centre of attention, a living deity that was worshipped by my host family – every hour of the day, they would bring food and beverage sacrifices to me, they would take me on tours around their neighbourhood and introduce me to friends and family alike, where I walked there was a small crowd of followers that swarmed behind me, ahead of me there were people on the streets staring as I passed by. I am quite sure I heard a fanfare at some point. In short, it was sheer bliss.

My host family, a mother, her son and her niece doted on me in ways that would make my mother jealous. The way I lapped up the attention is sure to get me disowned if she reads this. Nevertheless, it was a welcome break from the continuous hubbub of university life – it was good to just sit around and talk to a family without worrying about academics or what to cook for supper. It was good to just be at home.

The Ocean View homestay effectively ticks of one thing on my bucket list: live with a host family in a strange part of the world. With CIEE Cape Town set to have more activities around the corner, I think I won’t have a bucket list to speak of – I will be allowed to die in peace.

 

03/15/2011

View of the Ocean? A Home Away from Home...

An experience like this weekend reminded me once more why I came to South Africa. The Ocean View township is a community of mostly colored people who originally lived in Simon’s Town, just about a 15-minute drive from the current township.

Ironically, Ocean View hardly has a view of the ocean..but the life and energy of the community creates an environment far more desirable than any view of any ocean.The people in the community are vibrant, beautiful, creative and welcoming. The weekend began with a talent show led by tranny/community leader Alvin and group dinner at the high-school where an identical Michael Jackson copy performed a montage of dances and lip-synching (My brother Luke happened to have a huge Michael Jackson collage in his room as well).

Saturday morning began with a delicious breakfast of avocado, scrambled eggs, fresh tomato and toast followed by a trip to the mall with mom, luke, parker and my roommate for the weekend, Mosha. After a delicious lunch, we then took a drive along the coast with the entire family to pick up Jordan at a beach birthday bash (which he described as “BOORRING”) where there was a tidal pool complete with a mysterious 5-foot long black sand shark (how did it get in there) and fishing boats returning from a successful day by the looks of their nets and traps full of “snoek”.

We even got a free fish because Mosha and I excitedly told the fisherman that we had never seen a snook before! This fish was then taken to Grandma’s house in “Ghost Town” (neighborhood of Ocean View) where Paul expertly filleted the freshly killed snook. But before this, we took a drive to one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen thus far in Cape Town, Scarborough, just a ten minute drive from the George’s home— imagine having such beauty at your fingertips! Dinner was delicious— “braaied” snoek with a lime, apricot and butter glaze and fresh salad. Sunday morning began with church bright and early at 8am— a very similar to my own experiences at Catholic church (this was an Anglican congregation, which Paul informed me is very similar to Catholic). After Sunday Lunch (finally, something relatable to Sunday at Grandma Colangelo’s) we headed to watch the cycling race pass by. About 50% of Ocean View had the very same idea— there were braais, tents and endless amounts of people watching the race (sort of) but mostly just having fun and socializing. All in all, such a unique and special way to spend a weekend.

The George’s welcomed me into their home as their own (as they have done with exchange students for the past 6 years) and even hinted at coming to visit me next weekend for my birthday. I don’t think it’s naive to say that I will be seeing them very soon…. 

Ocean View brings to mind these words..community, togetherness, litter, vandalism, crime, love, friendship, support, churches, dogs, gates, barbed wire, beer, bodegas (except they use a different term I can’t remember right now), crowds, babies, vibrant, street games, running kids, wise elders… LIFE. 

Ocean View simultaneously reminded me of neighborhoods in my city (NYC) as well as the family community I grew up with myself. At the same time, the experience the residents of Ocean View, particularly the elder ones who can still remember times of forced removal and apartheid, is one entirely foreign to me. But as my experience proceeds here in Cape Town, I am only learning more and more and the incredible history, culture and background that comprises this amazing city.

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172849_1430732564728_1125270900_31718250_3083803_o Juliana Colangelo is a student from Barnard College.

03/08/2011

Sights and Scenes from Cape Town

Images by Holly Chu.

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The city lights of Cape Town, as seen from Signal Hill.

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Can you believe we tried to fit all of those people in a VW Beetle?

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After a tight squeeze, we only managed to get seven people. In one Beetle!

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A picture taken in Gugulethu.

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Kicking it at Mzoli's, a famous township eatery in Cape Town. The meat is just divine.

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Size does not matter.

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Winin' out.

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Finally getting to pet cheetahs. Cape Town, rules. Period.

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Holly Chu is a student from the University of Southern California.

Dusty Disciples: The Ramfest Experience

Howzit?

The semester has been in full force and as the immersion process is transforming the lives of each CIEE exchange student, Cape Town is starting to feel more and more like a home away from home. Not only have I been cooking 2-3 meals a day for myself but I am beginning to diet and eat like a true South African. I can proudly say that I am more of a carnivore and the braai culture has fully affected my eating habits. I believe that I have eaten over 20 full animals since I have been here.

This weekend, a small group of us decided to venture away from our secure homes in Rondebosch and Mowbray and travel North on the N1 to Nekkies Resort in Worcester for the annual Ramfest festival. Ramfest stands for Real Alternative Music. The international headliners were “Alkaline Trio” (US) and “Funeral for a Friend” (UK). However, the international bands were not the reason that Hans, Trevor, Vir and I ventured 120 km  away from Cape Town (Yes! I now use the metric system). After renting a car and a big 4 person tent as well as enough peanut butter and jelly, hot dogs, baked beans and water to last us the weekend, we headed out in pursuit of a fun-filled weekend.

This is the second time that we rented a car from some random car rental agent. The first time was for the Garden Route in which the agent told us he gave us the car with little to no “petrol” and we could return it that way. We made note in our heads to leave the car running overnight if we wound up having any leftover gas upon our return because it was not very considerate to leave us with nothing. This second time we rented the car from this agency the man said he thinks the car has a half tank of gas...

After driving for about 45 minutes heading north on the N1 everything is going quite well. Traffic starts to slow us down a bit as there is a huge tunnel a couple of kilometres up ahead. As the tunnel approaches, Hans our trusty driver notices that the accelerator is not doing anything and after a couple of pops we come to a dead stop. Low and behold after pushing the vehicle onto the shoulder of the highway we expect that we have run out of gas. The gas meter has not changed and apparently does not even work. After five minutes of hanging out talking to other concert goers and deciding on what to do, a large Volkswagen mini-bus full of a family bursts into a white flame of smoke about 50 yards behind us and we are joined with some similar broken down acquaintances.

After making new some new South African friends, an emergency highway vehicle arrives. He pulls up in front of us and wants to tow us to a safer part of the highway. After latching us onto the tow he immediately begins driving before we can even start the car and get it into neutral - we literally thought he was going to annihilate our transmission and axel or whatever else he was about to pull away from our car. We wave him to stop and finally he helps us start the car because the wheel lock was stuck. We pay the man 100 rand to fetch us some fuel and he follows us safely through the tunnel. Thank god we did not break down in the tunnel!

Finally we make it to Nekkies, Worcester after many turn-arounds and instances where we went to stop and ask for directions and no one spoke a word of English. Low and behold we are in Afrikaans country! Nekkies is a beautiful resort, located right in the mountains alongside of a huge river. Because we arrived late we had to set up our tent in the dark and were in the biggest dust bowl I have ever camped in. Our lungs and entire bodies were coated in dirt and dust within minutes. After setting up and settling we walked over to the concert scene where three stages were setup with the most scenic mountain backdrops behind.

A collective mixture of alternative, rock and electronic music were being played on each stage. We were very interested in hearing the South African music scene. The first night was set off by Gazelle (who have two zulu back vocal women singers and a very African vibe) and Die Antwoord (craziest set I have ever seen). They have an Afrikaans/English hardcore rap style accompanied by an insane high-pitched woman rapping). We then went over to the electronic tent that apparently played until 5 in the morning.

The next day the river was the main scene. Everyone brought inner tubes and floatables, relaxed and listened to music while soaking up the sun in the river. The scene was so cool. Later that night the two international headline bands played but we were not very interested in them. The coolest performance of the second night was on the electronic stage of a couple of guys called “P.H. Fat”.

These guys would kill it in the States and would do very well on college concerts. One of the artists brought out his laptop to “show the crowd something” but as he was fiddling with it while holding the mic he dropped his laptop and the battery broke off of it. He was not a happy camper.  He wound up giving his laptop to a member of the crowd. They got the whole crowd jumping and an entire dust cloud overtook all the available oxygen.

Sunday morning we woke up and got the hell out of there. We were covered from head to foot in dust and dirt. We prayed that the car would make it home and it did! What a great journey!

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20055_1270432961230_1242030024_30917106_2249651_n Bradley Elfman is a student from Syracuse University.