Saturday, May 14, 2016

Unfortunate Decisions Made Better by Beer, and Other Adventures.

When I opened up blogger to write another post, I realized the first few sentences were rife with spelling mistakes. Apologies, and I'll try better, but blogger isn't very mobile friendly and going back to change things after they've been typed isn't easy for some reason. Many things have changed and been upgraded since my last trip to Africa; Blogger isn't one of them. Maybe that's telling of something, the fact that people don't just blog anymore. Or Google has other priorities like driverless cars as opposed to a better user interface for their blogging platform. Who knows. Moving on.

Day 4: A Series of Unfortunate Decisions
As my last post suggested in the sign off, it's been a cold and foggy week here in Cape Town. Winter is coming, as they say. Our trip to the top of Table Mountain was Scheduled for Thursday, but the director of our program made it clear that she was willing to rearrange excursions so we could have a good day to ascend the cable car up the mountain. Even thoough this would be my fourth time up the mountain, it is always exciting to me, and I hoped everyone else would get a good day too. But it was not shaping up to be that kind of day. So we hopped on the bus for what we've affectionately labeled a Professor P Surprise. Announcing we wouldnt be ascending Table Mountain that morning, we would be going to Plan B and seeing which way the wind and clouds shifted in the afternoon for a possible trip up the mountain later in the day. In the mean time, she announced excitedly, we would be taking a trip to World of Birds in Hout Bay! The reactions were varied and hilarious as the 18-19 year olds shrieked with excitement at the prospect of seeing animals and monkeys, the other Meaghans face fell ghastly white. Having announced already her fear of flying things and citing a bad experience in Costa Rica, we were literally about to live her worst nightmare. I or course, thought I could think of a million things I'd rather do than go to what I was sure would be a glorified petting zoo of birds and monkeys, but I was along for the ride.

The scenery around the back side of Table Mountain was amazing. The foothills of the mountain fell straight into the ocean, providing a place for the waves to crash spectacularly below the winding road. Up and through a valley in the mountains, we descended into Hout Bay. The bus fell eerly silent as we drove past the first township of the trip, reminding us (and showing most for the first time) of the vast differences in lifestyle and culture in South Africa. We pulled up to the World of Birds and were immediately greeted by a wall of squawking as we got off the bus. Walking in, they ran out of maps and so started our African version of the movie The Birds. The park was a circle with circular paths that jutted off the main path. To follow these paths you would pass through a wire doorway with a rudimentary pulley system to fully shut the door behind you as you entered into a caged pathway. The first few feet lead Meaghan to false hope as the parrots were behind cages, and we were soon greeted by screaming cockatoos that were clearly upset we were there. Still, at least they were behind a cage, unlike the flock of doves that flew next to our distracted heads and caused everyone to whip their heads and kink their necks, causing the first of many "bird injuries" we all joked about the rest of the trip as we tripped over the path and kinked our necks trying to watch our step and duck from flying birds while dodging their poop on the path. Needless to say I don't need to describe them next 150 pathways this place had, all equally as terrifying as the next. But not only was there countless pathways of birds, including a giant hissing owl, you could walk among the turtles (who also hiss, who knew), the Penguins (careful they bite!) and the monkeys, who will pick your pockets and jump on your head. In case you were afraid we didn't have enough time to enjoy all that the World of Birds had to offer, they extended our time to stay there so we could have enough time to play with the monkeys and see the Penguins being fed. You know how there are some things that are cool when you're a kid, and then as you get older you realize it's kinda freaky? That was this place.

We were finally back on the bus when we looked to the skies to see the sun peaking through. Still not a perfect day for Table Mountain but maybe after lunch and the trek back to Cape Town. We stopped at a place with a bunch of restaurants and Meaghan and I skipped to the Thai place for some noodles (obviously not as good as Uncle Manops cooking) and found some chocolate bars at the local shop while we waited for everyone else to buy all the beaded elephants their little hearts desired. Back on the bus the sweeping ocean views were even better as the fog had cleared, and Professor P joyfully announced we would be going to Table Mountain that day. There was nervous anticipation as everyone looked to the top to see whisps of clouds, but they must have known something we didn't about the weather. They didn't. I wouldn't even say by the time we got to the top, because even as we stood at the bottom, the top of the Mountain was covered in clouds. When we got to the top, you could barely see Cape Town stadium right along the shoreline, just before the clouds engulfed the top and it was a wall of clouds. We stood there in awe of what had just happened, laughing at what a terrible decision it was to go today, when the day before had been crystal clear, hoping the wind would shift and the clouds would give way. They didn't. We resigned to the cafe at the top for a latte and watched out the window in disbelief. A half hour later we decided to swing through the gift shop before heading down. As we entered the cable station, the clouds broke for a moment, allowing a grey, hazy view of the city. We snapped a few dreary pictures before we headed down below the mist.

A series of unfortunate decisions that day, Made me happy that this isn't my first or only time in Cape Town. My many other pictures of Cape Town from Table Mountain made me just laugh the whole time we were up there. Too bad for the others though, but I guess that's why we have so many days here. We finished out the day with class in the evening, before headed to a delicious restaurant called Knead across the street. It reminded me of a Panera but I was pleasantly surprised to find and try my first craft beer in Cape Town. The one thing Africa was missing (and I do generally mean the continent as we traveled most of it) was decent beer. SAB Miller is the producer of most South African beer, Castle and its derivatives, making all beer essentially Miller Light. AMG and I were fortunate enough to find Camelthron Berwery at the Old Busicut Mill our last trip to Cape Town and toured their facility in Windhoek, Namibia four years ago. But this trip as shown me the promise of a budding craft beer scene that has made its way from America and Europe. Devils Peak Brewery's IPA did not disappoint and redeemed a less than stellar day. But not a bad day, because I am, after all, in Cape Town.

Day 5: Another Cold Day
To no ones surprise, the wind was howling the next morning as it blew the rain clouds back out to sea. We started the day with class bright and early because, unlike most other classes, the majority of our class was near or over 30 and was too tired from the days excursions to do evening classes. Then, it was back on the bus and off to a place I had surprisingly never been in my three previous trips to Cape Town.. Robben Island. Robbed Island, like Alcatraz, is a former prison turned historical site, boasting a famous prisoner -- Nelson Mandela. Unlike Alcatraz, Robben Island is much further out, and a decent sized island. The boat ride from the waterfront took about an hour when all was said and done, and good thing I have never really had a problem with sea sickness, as that was a rocky ride. It did however, lull me into a drowsy state as we watched the Dolphins and seals play in the water. Eventually the island appeared in our view and we saw houses and buses on the island. As we pulled up, I wondered how on earth they got those buses over here as this was not a car ferry boat. I'm sure there was one somewhere though. We hopped on the bus for a bus tour of the island with our tour guide Kent and his driver Mike. They took us through the history of the island, from a Dutch India Trading Company refreshment outpost, to an island of exile for tribal chiefs who opposed colonialism, to a leper colony, to a military station, and eventually a prison. We saw the leper clinic, the town and old school house (three years ago they closed the school due to budget constraints and the children now take the hour long ferry to and from school every day) and the WWII guns that were never fired because they were completed two years after the war (Africa time, eh? our tour guide joked). Finally we got off the bus and were taken on a tour of the prison itself. One of the amazing things about Robben Island now is that the political prisoners are the ones who give the tours of the prison itself. They take you on a tour of their section, telling you their story, and what it was like in the prison at that time. Our guide served in the 1980s, originally a six month sentence that was extended for 14 years. He only served 4 though as all political prisoners were released in 1990. Each tour ends with a tour of section A and Nelson Mandelas cell. Mandela like many other leaders, were secluded to single cells, while others like our tour guide were placed in cells that held up to 60 people. His cell was small, with a mat on the floor and a bucket for a toilet, it was amazing to think of the men and the ideas that were silenced by these walls, but the isolation of the island. Or attempted silence anyway, as the apartheid government eventually fell and the ideas of a new and equal country that were formulated on the island helped shape a new South Africa.

After an equally choppy boat ride back, we landed back on the waterfront with enough time for a quick bite to eat at a new food market (new to me anyway) with some gourmet samosas before heading back to the hostel. Having semi-neglected my studies for comps, I convinced Meaghan to go to a local tapas bar with me to study. Having finished her extended presentation as a required part of our graduate curriculum, she had nothing to study but was eager to get out of our room. Our room shares a wall with a rooftop bar in the hostel. Cool idea, but for old students like us, it makes studying impossible. Fortunately it closes at 9, leaving just the downstairs bar music to float up. Thank goodness for ear plugs. We spent the evening at Chalk&Cork tasting some South African wine and studying under the full moon light. Unfortunately, it was freezing even with the wine, so the minute the clock struck 9 we headed back to the warmth of our beds.

Day 6: A Good Break
Unlike the biology class here, who has quizzes on Saturdays, we have stuck to a semi-regular class schedule and have the weekends free of class. So the group headed off (after the bio quiz of course) for a safari today. Having had my fair share of lions and impalas, I took a hard pass on the $100 trip and spent the day in local coffee shops studying for comps. The Flat White has become my cure for the jet lag I have yet to fully shake, and after three (some with double shots) this morning I felt enough energy for a run. Its a beautiful day in Cape Town today. This chill is still in the air (were anticipating a return to the 70s next week) and the clouds are hanging around the mountain, but the sun shines on the city, making it a beautiful fall day.

Well, this has been a good break from studying. Back to Biostatistics it is.

Cheers, Meg

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