Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I need to start growing lemon bushes!

School is FINISHED! Okay, so I may be jumping the gun there, so let me revise that to Classes are FINISHED!!! But I realized I hadn't taken a lot of pictures of campus, so I took a few on my last day!

View from campus

Walking to class

We finished up last Friday, lucky me doesn’t have any finals until June 6th. That leaves me with almost 2 weeks of complete relaxation right?

Well not exactly, but not too far off. Although last weekend was a great start to the end of classes. Friday, Steph, Cari, Kelsey, and I went to Kirstenbosch Gardens. While I had been there before, I didn’t really get to explore the gardens the first time, since we went to have a picnic and listen to a concert.

Kirstenbosch Gardens

Exploring the gardens was so fun though. Since the weather has been getting colder, we’ve really be appreciating the beautiful days, and Friday was definitely one of them. The gardens were absolutely gorgeous, and we all had fun looking at (and usually touching) the different plants, trying to get as close as possible to the guinea fowl, and taking copious amounts of pictures. I even found a plant that protects against attack from dog and crocodile bites. No joke, it’s a real plant. And while it may be illegal, I picked some of it, just to be safe.

I will be decorating our apartment with Lemon Bushes Corinne.

Saturday we went to the World Cup stadium to watch Cape Town’s soccer team play. I think I may have gotten a little too caught up in the spirit and bought a flag as well as a scarf, all bright red and sporting the Ajax’s name and mascot. I hope you like bright red Corinne, because I will be decorating our apartment with all my fun souvenirs! When I came to South Africa, I had no idea how soccer worked, having never played it due to my lack of eye-foot coordination. However, with the help of my European, Zambian, and American housemates, I’d like to think I’ve learned at least a bit about this sport. Like, at the Ajax’s game, they tied the game, but their aggregate was lower than another team’s in the lead so they lost the championship (sad). Now don’t I sound smart? The soccer game was super fun!!! Everyone was full of spirit, with face painting and vuvuzelas ringing out. I definitely now understand why they wanted to ban vuvuzelas at the World Cup, while they’re fun, they get obnoxious really quickly.

The rest of the weekend/week has been full of movie watching, food making, and cookie baking. I have shared my love of all things Bridget Jones with Steph, Cari, and Kelsey, and have asked all of them to never mention it to me if they secretly hate the movies (not possible). I have been doing some work though. I have quite a few novels to read before my finals, so I’ve been working on reading those, as well as studying for the GRE which I’m taking at the end of June. It’s probably not my best life choice, but I wanted to take it before they change the test. I’ll make it though! I also finished my initial Peace Corps application last week. I’m really excited to be going through the process, but I’m also freaking out a bit, because this means I actually have to start thinking about my future, and the fact that next year is senior year (thanks for pointing that out Mom!).

But before I decide (read: freak out about) the rest of my life, I am going to finish enjoying South Africa. Thursday I’m heading to Kruger National Park with Steph and Kelsey for a 3 day safari!!!!!! To say I’m excited would be a vast understatement. It’s true I’ve already walked with elephants, but I’m SO excited to see the entire cast of The Lion King!!

I have 18 days left in Cape Town. It’s completely unbelievable in my mind. I still have so much to do and see here. But honestly, I think I could stay here another 5 months and still not see and do everything I’ve wanted to. While my time in Cape Town has been filled with ups and downs, it seems so unreal that I’ll be leaving and heading back to the States soon. What am I going to do when I no longer am surrounded by mountains on all sides, and I can’t take a quick mini bus ride to the ocean whenever I want? Friends at home, but forewarned, I will be expecting A LOT of dinner parties since I’ve gotten used to them here!

I hope all of you are well and enjoying summer. I’ve got to say, it’ll be nice to get back to 75 degrees and hotter, since Cape Town is starting to get chilly and rainy. But there is no downside to me getting 7 months of summer this year!

Love you all! And see (most) of you soon!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Roadtrip to Namibia!

I admit my blog post leading up to my Namibian roadtrip was definitely lacking, so I promise to make up for it now.

The theme for this roadtrip was definitely: It’s about the journey, not the destination.

Our original plan was to leave Friday morning at 8am, the earliest time we could pick up our car.

Well that didn’t happen
First of all, after setting my alarm for 6:00am, I was woken up by a phone call from Kelsey at 7:40am asking whether I was on my way to come get her yet. Ooops. 20 minutes later, after the quickest packing I’ve done in my life, I was on my way to get Kaushal and Kelsey. We finally get to the car company and we’re excited to get our car and hit the road.

Well that didn’t happen either…
The travel company that helped set up our car rental failed to inform us that since I was the only 21 year old in our car I had to pay for EVERYTHING with my credit card, which I couldn’t do because I had just maxed it out to pay for my Kruger trip in May (so excited!). After about 3 hours of trying to figure the whole mess out, the amazing Kangarunar stepped up and put our security deposit on his credit card so we could finally get our car!

So after our slow start it was time to drive. It was about an 11 hour drive from Cape Town to our first camping spot, Ai-Ais, Namibia. The drive up South Africa was absolutely gorgeous. We all kept trying to get pictures and randomly yelling “It’s so beautiful!” Crossing the border was no problem at all and after about 30 minutes we were now driving through Namibia. Sadly, we didn’t get to see any scenery for the last 2 hours of the drive since it was completely dark out.

Sidenote: For some reason both South Africa and Namibia don’t believe in street lights. It’s very unfortunate when you’re supposed to be looking out for giant deer and even larger bugs.

Anyway, by the time we got to our first camp site, we were all exhausted and just ready to stop driving. Jessica, Ash, and Runar didn’t have a tent so they decided they would just sleep in their car. Well, after 2 seconds of deliberation, my car decided to follow suit, considering we didn’t feel like setting up our tent in the dark. Three of us sleeping in one car was a bit squished, but honestly, I was so exhausted I fell right asleep.

The next morning I couldn’t believe my eyes when I woke up. We were surrounded by the most beautiful red cliffs, with a river rushing by. We decided to make a detour to Fish River Canyon on our way to our next stop, Sesriem, and it was definitely worth it. After you get into Namibia, the roads are either B,C, or D roads. B means the road is paved, C means the road is gravel, and D means the road is dirt.

Guess how many B roads Namibia has?

So needless to say, a lot of our trip was spent on C and D roads, which luckily our non-4-wheel-drive car didn’t get stuck in. While it was a dusty ride, it was absolutely gorgeous. On our way to the Canyon we stopped for a bunch of photo opportunities, because as unbelievable as it sounds, Namibia just kept getting more and more beautiful.

After our pit stop, we decided to head out to Sesriem, which was another 6 or so hours of driving. Thankfully, Kaushal, Kelsey and I all took turns driving. Of course, the biggest help were the 20 CDs Kelsey and I burned the night before. We had the greats: The Beatles, Glee, Ingrid , Mr. A-Z, along with random mixes. However, by the end I was perfectly happy not to hear “Just Can’t Get Enough” or “Sweet Caroline” (Glee version, of course) for at least two weeks.
Anyway, the drive to Sesriem was once again BEAUTIFUL. As many of you may remember, I used to have a slight obsession with clouds and how cool they look. Well look at these clouds!!!! I probably took WAY too many pictures, but I was just so excited. They looked painted on just like in Toy Story. Actually, Kaushal said the landscape reminded him a lot of the opening scene of Toy Story 3 (so true).
Painted on clouds

By the time we got to Sesriem we were all tired though and looking forward to getting to a campsite. Sesriem was actually the only place we hadn’t prebooked a campsite or hostel at, but we figured campsites couldn’t really fill up. I mean all we really needed were two spots to park our cars and we were good to go.

Well that didn’t happen…
We got into Sesriem and stopped at the first campsite our lovely GPS (Tamera for short) led us to. It was there that the lovely receptionist informed us that there not only was no room at their campsite, but every campsite in Sesriem was booked. Apparently the combination of Easter weekend being a very popular travel weekend and the fact that there were two weddings that weekend on the dunes/mountain, all available camping accommodations were booked. We debated for a while about just driving straight through to Swakopmund, our next destination where we knew we had beds and activities to do. Throughout this discussion the receptionist at the campsite was calling around to different sites looking for any place that would just let us park our cars in a lot for the night.

Just as we were deciding it wouldn’t be too bad to continue driving for another 6 hours in pitch black darkness on dirt/sand roads (lie) the amazing receptionist came to our rescue and told us a Lodge about 40 km away would let us park our cars there for the night for only 80 Rand (translation: not too far away and cheaper than most campsites). Our destination turned out to be a Christian Retreat, where they so nicely let us park our cars next to two trees behind their lodge. Yeah, we laughed too. I know I shouldn’t make fun of these nice, generous people, but it was a little weird. When we got to the lodge, we went right to reception, and one of the ladies in charge kept trying to separate the girls from the boys. She had Kelsey, Jess, and I follow her to where the room was they were letting us use for showers (but not to sleep in, although it was so tempting), while the boys went and moved our cars to our sleeping spots.

This may be a good time to mention the bugs. Now I know I’m not a big outdoorsy girl, and I’ve had my share of screaming “SPIDERRRRR” while running out of the room and waiting for someone bigger, stronger, and tougher to kill the killer insect. The last time this happened, my bigger, stronger, and tougher hero was my petite roommate Rachel. Whatever, it was a HUGE spider. Anyway, I have NEVER seen such giant bugs as I saw in Namibia. I know you won’t believe me so I’m going to show you this picture. The bugs are on the wooden rails, and the donkey (while cute) is there so you can see how big these bugs are to scale.

Feel free to cringe/scream

So the point is, these bugs were EVERYWHERE in Sesriem. And while Jessica, Kelsey, and I were high stepping around these giant, disgusting bugs, the lady working at the Christian Retreat was just walking casually by them. One reason while Namibia is a great place to visit, but not to live: I never want to get used to HUGE, DISGUSTING CREATURES that are everywhere. That night we went to the bar and talked to a couple of older Namibians who were traveling for Easter. One of the guys was a complete jerk. Before coming to South Africa, I had never even heard of Namibia, so it makes sense that I also hadn’t realized that there was also apartheid in Namibia. This guy was definitely pro-apartheid, which was very uncomfortable. At one point he used the words “pure blood” when talking about being white. Very very creepy (and very reminiscent of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named). He even tried to convince us that America was where slavery began. Uh-huh, yeah. That night we decided to sleep in the car again, since no one was keen on waking up to an infestation of those giant bugs.

The next morning we were up bright and early and headed to Sossusvlei, the famous oasis in the sand dunes in Sesriem. While it was a little foggy when we first got there, it cleared up and was breath taking. We had to take a 4x4 to get there, as our little cars would not have made it 2 feet in the loose sand. We walked around the dunes for a while, taking in the amazing views and then headed back on the road to our next stop, Swakopmund.

Swakopmund was another 10 hours or so, but it was the most beautiful drive of them all. We went from
the dunes of Sesriem

rolling green hills (basically the Shire from Lord of the Rings)

the savanna

to the desert and back to dunes in our 10 hour drive (blogspot wouldn't let me add anymore pictures). It was the most gorgeous drive I’ve ever seen, since it was basically all national parks. Namibia only has about 3 million people, and it’s quite a big country, so most of the land we drove through were just giant national parks, which made for a beautiful drive.

By the time we got to Swakopmund, we were all ready to sleep in beds. Swakopmund is a cute, touristy town right on the ocean. However, after a while it started to feel like ghost town. All of the shops were cute, and nothing looked run down, but it never seemed like there were enough people to fill out the town. Our first night was Easter, so we had dinner at a great establishment, Ocean Basket (basically the Red Lobster of Africa) and called it a night. The next morning we signed up for an hour quad-biking tour of dunes which was SO much fun!! We sped around the dunes on our 4x4s and got to take breathtaking pictures during our pit stops. Sadly, this is when my camera decided to die, so the rest of the pictures (which are already on facebook) are courtesy of Kelsey . After the quad-bike tour, we decided to spend a few hours at the beach, taking in the nice weather. While in Namibia it was probably around 70 degrees, back in Cape Town it was in the low 60s and raining all week. It was so nice to be back in nice warm weather ago.

That night, Kelsey, Jessica, Kaushal, and I decided to try our hand at the casino. This was my first time ever gambling at a casino. After Kelsey taught me how to play the more complicated slot machines, I decided to try my hand at them, mostly by just pressing random buttons and getting excited when it said I made matches and won credits! Although there was one little misunderstanding. At one point, I got a “Butterfly Bonus” on one of the machines and all of a sudden 1,000 credits were deposited on my card. At the time, however, I didn’t realize there was a difference between credits and Rand. That led me to basically run up to Kelsey and Jessica at the cashier’s counter saying “Guys, I think I just won 1,000 Rand!!!!” In order for you to understand this excitement, 1,000 Rand =$142.85. That can buy a lot of roasted red pepper hummus and pita. This was the point when Kelsey chimed in, alerting me to the difference between credits and rand. Nevertheless, I ended up cashing out with 100 extra Rand! So, basically the I was paid to go gamble.

Runar, Jessica, and Ash originally needed to get their cars back on Wednesday by noon. At first they were just going to extend their rental, but our car decided that we might as well all just drive straight through, since if we would have stayed at our campsite in Keetmanshoop we would have just ended up sleeping in our cars again. So instead, we left Swakopmund at 3:00am the next morning. The first 4 hour leg to the capital, Windhoek, was done by Kaushal (thank God).
To be honest, we didn’t see a lot of Windhoek, considering it was just past 7:00am and we only just stopped there for gas and for Red Bulls, but it seemed like a pretty, decent sized city for Namibia.

Our drive back was definitely intense. We stopped at gas stations every chance we could, even if we didn’t need gas, just to be able to stretch our legs and get out of the car. We got back across the border to South Africa with no trouble and in just under 20 hours; after rain, frustration with slow cars (on my part), no street lights, winding mountain roads, and radio stations where we couldn't recognize 9 out of 10 songs (I feel so out of the loop here) we were home. I can’t say how amazing it was to spend the night in my own bed.

Since the trip, I’ve been back to the grind, as we only have two weeks of school left. I’ve also been working on my Peace Corps application for after I graduate, and studying for the GRE. Yeah, I think I probably picked a bad time to try to figure out the rest of my life. Oh well, there’s no time like the present. In less than 20 days I’ll be at Kruger National Park with Kelsey for a 3 day safari in which we’ll see Simba, Timon, Pumba, and hopefully all of the other animals in the kingdom, (hopefully zebras!!). I’m super excited for my last African trip and I really cannot believe that I have just over a month left here. Sadly, Cape Town is starting to get a bit colder, and I’m dreading the day when Alpena weather trumps Cape Town weather. Hopefully, it’s not until after I get home.

But I should go and call my mom to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day! I hope you all are doing well, I love you all and cannot wait to see you again!!