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Archive for January, 2013

Chapter Three: So Much to Say

It’s been a couple of days since I last posted, but quite a lot has happened since my tour of the peninsula. Agh!! So much to write about!!! I think I might split it up into two entries.

Monday was just general orientation stuff. Do this, don’t do that, this is something cool, here’s where this happens, etc.

Tuesday, there was a bit more of the same in the morning, but then I had the whole afternoon free. Shaina was going to the beach with one of her friends from Princeton, so I decided to tag along. The only problem was that the only thing we knew was the name of the beach: Muizenberg. We literally had no idea where that was, how long it would take to get there, and how we were going together. Hey Alex, YOU HAD A MAP IN YOUR BAG! Why didn’t you look at it, dummy? Well, conscience, that is a very good question…

So we squeezed into a taxi headed to Wynberg. The driver and his assistant told us we could catch another taxi from there. We got out at Wynberg, walked around for a couple of minutes, then finally decided to ask someone else. They said the only way to get to Muizenberg was to take the train. Bought a ticket, hopped on the train (the same kind I took into town the other day), but we didn’t know when the Muizenberg stop was, so we were constantly craning our necks out the window to see what the stop was called. We must have stuck out like a sore thumb; might as well have had “tourist” tattooed on my forehead. I finally decided to take a look at the map I had, and I saw that where we were going is actually pretty close to Simon’s Town, the eastern side of the peninsula and so the bay side of the cape. After about a half an hour, we finally arrived at the beach.

It was absolutely gorgeous. Waves were coming in constantly, and the sand stretched for miles. There were tons of surfers in the water. The black shark flag was up, but no big deal. That just means that the water isn’t completely clear, but there are no sharks in the area. Green is clear water, no sharks. Red is that a shark has been spotted in an area nearby, and white signals to haul ass out of the water cause there is a shark. Shaina, Caleb, and I found a spot to put our towels down. It was super windy, and sand was blowing everywhere, but we were having a really relaxing time, getting ourselves a little shuteye and sunshine. That is until the tide suddenly drenched us. The water literally came out of nowhere! We figured we’d feel it hit our feet and then we’d move. No such luck. Whoops! We stayed for about forty-five minutes more, just looking out over the water, before deciding to head back. We took a metered cab home; you don’t really want to be on the train past about 6pm. Definitely an adventure (gave me something to blog about!), and I definitely want to spend more time at that beach. It was beautiful.

Yesterday, I had my pre-registration for UCT. Doesn’t really have anything to do with classes. They just want to confirm that you have the correct visa and health insurance. But in the afternoon, Shaina suggested heading to the Two Ocean’s Aquarium, which is on the V&A Waterfront. We decided to get annual passes, each R180. One pass is R100, and we figured we would probably want to go back at some point this semester. As soon as we walked in, there was a tank full of clownfish with a big sign on it: “NEMOS.” That was pretty funny, and it had a little hole that you could stick your head through so it looked like you were inside the tank. They had some really cool things. A bunch of lobsters, giant crabs, and jellyfish. But they had AFRICAN PENGUINS!!!! I haven’t been able to get down to Simon’s Town and Boulders Beach yet to see these guys in the wild, but there are so cute. It’s also great because at the New England Aquarium, the penguins are in this exhibit that’s about ten to fifteen feet below you. Here, we were on the same level and they were only three feet away from me! I could literally reach out and touch them if there hadn’t been a security guard. We caught the penguins right at feeding time. They’re a lot less graceful than I thought they would be. I’ve always imagined them doing this beautiful dive into the water, gliding into the ocean. Nope. They just plop in! So cute.

Nemo Tank

Nemo Tank

Penguins!

Penguins!

Next we came by this massive tank full of lots of different fish of all colors and sizes, and there were giant stalks of seaweed with a current moving them back and forth. This was by far my favorite part of the aquarium. It was so peaceful and relaxing; I could have sat there for hours just watching or reading a book or something! It was absolutely mesmerizing.

Could have spent the afternoon here.

Could have spent the afternoon here.

Finally, there was the predator tank. They had a couple of ragged-tooth sharks and a big sea turtle. Caught them right at feeding time as well!! We had basically finished what we wanted to see there, so we walked through the crafts area of the waterfront and then went to a gourmet market. The best thing was the guy at the chocolate stand. Shaina and I just wandered over because I couldn’t tell if something was for sale or for tasting. We got to talking with the guy behind the counter, and we ended up hanging there for a half an hour! Just talking with him. He was so sweet. His name is Job and he’s from Congo. He’s twenty-one and moved to Cape Town with his family when he was twelve and has been here ever since. He talked to us about chocolate, about how the company makes it, the difference between cocoa powder and cocoa massa. He asked us about school, told us the best things to do and best places to go in the city. He was great! I really hope to run into him again at the market.

All of the Ida Cooper students went to Ida’s house for dinner last night. Really great food, and there was a guy there to talk to us about the differences in the academics and classes between UCT and our home university. He was really helpful; he gave us a lot of tips and told us some of the major faux pas. When a professor at the end of the big lecture asks the class (a small class is about 250 students) if there are any questions, don’t actually ask a question. The professors aren’t actually expecting you to have questions. Also, I had heard that the grading was really hard here, but I didn’t quite realize how hard. Boston College has said that if you get a 75% and up in one of your classes at UCT, a first class mark, that’s an A. So I figured, hey, that’s not too bad! Little did I realize that only about 6% of the students in an entire class actually get that grade. That has definitely gotten me a bit more nervous about classes. I guess we’ll see.

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Chapter Two: The Peninsula

Wow. Really big day. I’ll try to summarize it as best as I can. Also, I am uploading photos! Yay!! Hopefully I’ll have a gallery up soon with all my pictures.

So after waking up just before 7am, I boarded one of the several coach buses that were provided to the over 400 international students who are here for the semester. Today was to be the day when we took an all-day tour of the peninsula that Cape Town is a part of. We started off by going past the V&A Waterfront, a major shopping center as well as an aquarium right on the water. The road we took was all along the water, and I have never seen an ocean so incredibly pristine. The white caps of the waves were visible for miles it seemed, and the water was so incredibly blue.

The areas of houses and towns along the water seem to be much more upscale than the other places I’ve seen so far. Almost every house has a view of the Atlantic, and there were so many people out on this beautiful Sunday morning. Not necessarily swimming, as the water in much of this area is very cold. I think about 55 degrees Fahrenheit our tour guide Chris said. Oh, he was great. So many facts and history that I really appreciated on our trip down the cape.

Our first stop was at Maiden’s Cove. It was absolutely gorgeous. Beautiful water and beach, but oh my word was it windy! There were times I had to turn out of the wind in order to just breathe. Sand was flying, hair was going crazy, and everyone was screaming with delight. We were only there for about ten minutes, but it was crazy and a lot of fun.

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Maiden’s Cove

Next we continued on, winding through lots of flora and fauna; there are so many trees along the water! Passing through Hout Bay was pretty interesting. “Hout” is the Afrikaans word for wood, so Wooden Bay in English. Rightly named, even more green. But as we were driving along, we got to one intersection where I got my first glimpse at a township. It was all makeshift housing; each home looked like a collage of tin, wood, cloth, and graffiti. What was so interesting to me is that on my left there was this township, but almost directly across the street, there were beautiful homes and apartments for the more middle and upper class citizens. I don’t even really know what to think of that. It’s hard to put into words.

Township in Hout Bay

Township in Hout Bay

The view over-looking Hout Bay was incredible. Once again, very windy, but spectacular to see the area we had just gone through.

Hout Bay

Hout Bay

From 11am to almost 2pm, the entire group gathered at a school in Ocean View. The majority of the people who live there are “colored.” I had read this before, but for the readers who don’t know, the term “colored” is used widely in South Africa and not at all in a derogatory way. It simply means someone of mixed heritage, originally dating back a couple of hundred years when Dutch slave owners would have children with their slaves. Ocean View didn’t even exist until the 1960s. Simon’s Town is where the community originally lived, until it was declared an “all-white” area, and the people were forcibly uprooted from their homes to this place on the other side of the peninsula. You can’t even see the ocean from it; the only reason that it is called Ocean View is because of the “ocean view” the coloreds used to have. Much of the older generation died of broken hearts, and their children often turned to drug and alcohol abuse or gangs. It is a really sad story, but seeing the younger generation was amazing.

Waiting for us was the children’s band of the area, organized by a retired Navy commander. There were about 30 of them, from ages of about 9 to 18, all with trumpets or trombones in their hands. They played a bunch of really fun numbers for us. They only have a little support from the government, and all of their instruments are secondhand and have been donated. It seems to be a beautiful way of bringing hope into this area. The school also provided a full meal for us. All 450! After that, we got to see much of the local talent, the majority of which was dancing, especially hip-hop and break-dancing. One of their groups has even gone to an international competition in Germany, coming in fourth place! A single dancer won the national championship last year. They were all absolutely amazing. Their moves were so tight and technical; they are all so disciplined. I loved seeing this community, everyone was so kind and to see this town move past their resentments and their challenges was truly inspiring.

Last, but certainly not least, we came to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. This experience can best be described through pictures, so I’ll keep it brief I promise! We entered the national park, immediately spotting wildlife. Ostriches, which I learned can carry someone who weighs 150 kilograms. That’s 330 pounds!! We had two baboons walking along the road by us. One car decided to whizz by the alpha male. He was so startled!

Baboon!!!

Baboon!!!

We hiked up to the lighthouse at the top of Cape Point. It’s probably not really a hike, but for someone who was wearing flip-flops (woof…), it was a very steep walk. Gorgeous views of both the Atlantic and False Bay. Next, we went back down, this time taking the trail up and around the Cape of Good Hope. It was supposed to be named the Cape of Storms because of the bad experience Bartolomeu Dias had trying to find an alternate route to India, but the King of Portugal didn’t want to dissuade traders. Once again, the view from the top cannot be put into words. I guess breathtaking will do.

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View of mountains from the lighthouse

View of the Cape of Good Hope

View of the Cape of Good Hope

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Wow. Ohmygoodness. I am in Cape Town, South Africa and not just here for a few weeks.

I will actually be living here for four and a half months.

It’s pretty surreal, and I am totally excited and terrified. But I’ve now been here for two days; it is officially the start of my adventure.

Okay, so the flights weren’t too bad. Had a row to myself on the way to Amsterdam, then sat next to a couple from Liverpool on the way to CPT. I had a window seat for both, which is my favorite. Couldn’t see too much below, but I got a glimpse of the desert! We got in at about 10:30pm, and we were picked up by three Orientation Leaders who took us to UCT vacation accommodations. Finally got settled in at 1am. It was basically a dorm–maybe freshman housing? All singles, equipped with a lot of closet space, shelves, desk, the essentials. There was no air conditioning, but there’s always a great breeze to come in through the window.

The floors were co-ed, and the bathrooms were…interesting. A couple of showers with an absolutely wonderful see-through shower curtain, and there was always the chance that I would walk out of the shower and see a guy at one of the urinals. Boston College would have a heart attack! Nothing to complain about, just a new experience!

The next day I came down, had breakfast, and luckily ran into some of the Ida Cooper students (which I am one of). Caught them just as they were leaving to get a walking tour of the city center. Ida is absolutely wonderful, so sweet and she has recruited great students to help us. We took a train in–nothing like the T. Very old and jerky, but functional was all I needed. The city is gorgeous. So many trees and greenery, and views of the mountain almost everywhere (forgot to upload pictures. eek!). We walked down Long Street, which is the major road with restaurants, clubs, and shops. On the way back, we took a taxi, which is completely different from an American taxi. Here, taxis are vans with about three rows of four seats and one seat next to the driver. So that comes out to fitting 14 people…we had 20 in ours. Everyone squeezes in, and there were two guys crouched by the door. And no seat belts. (Mom, Dad, I promise the driving is at least more organized than in India!) But that’s pretty typical here. It’s an easy, fast, and cheap way to get around. It cost about 8rand each, so about 90 US cents.

That’s another wonderful thing. Everything is so incredibly cheap, it’s just hard to get used to. A burger costs about 50, and I was shocked at first until I remembered that that’s about 5 and a half dollars.

I moved into my apartment today! It is absolutely gorgeous. My roommates are Emily and Shaina, who are both from Princeton and super sweet. We are all sitting in an internet cafe called Cocoa Wah Wah, having lunch while accessing wifi. We all have our own bedrooms and bathrooms. And a maid! Every week! Insane. The apartment has beautiful beds, closets, and a gorgeous kitchen with a washer and dryer. I’ll upload pictures soon. Also, I have the double bed. Haven’t had one of those in a while. We are right off the main street in Rondebosch, which is perfect. Really easy to get to the supermarket and stores.

Cocoa Wah Wah

The only frustrating thing so far is the Wifi access. Wherever you are, you have to pay for it, usually pay as you go. Even in your own home. It is definitely something to get used to. I’ll have to see how much I pay for how much time…or data. Whatever it is.

I think that’s it for now. We have our tour of the peninsula tomorrow–African penguins!! It’s been pretty chill so far, but I know things will pick up when we start classes in two weeks. All the South Africans are really nice and helpful, and beautiful. The gene pool must amazing.

Oh yeah, there was a lizard on my wall last night, but I was able to gently coax it out the window. First successful milestone!!

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