The jet lag hasn't entirely subsided, but a good nights sleep is definitely easier to have the second night. But up before the sun, we made our way down to breakfast bright as early. I'll refer to "we" a lot because as we learned at our 9am group meeting, Meaghan and I were lucky to have each other. As the only two grade students on the trip, and 10 years older than the rest of the students, most just finishing their freshman year, we were stuck between the class and the professors. So essentially, the Megans, who are older and didn't travel to Cape Town with the group, we're definitely the outsiders of the group. Again, good thing we have each other, because what 18 year olds want to do on a study abroad trip is vastly different then 28 year olds. Generally. I have a better understanding of the large gap in the Peace Corps volunteers now.
Anyway, Day 2 began with our first day of class. There are 5 students in our class: 3 undergrad and 2 graduate students. With 2 presentations and 2 exams, the class is manageable, until you realize as a grad student you add a paper and lead another class and do it all in 16 days. Manageable, but not a cake walk study abroad class. Like actual class. I am also studying for my MPH comprehensive exam while I'm here. This is a cumulative exam over 5 core courses in Public Health that I've taken over the past year. Not an easy exam. Especially when you're frolicking around Southern Africa for the month prior. Oh well. Therefore, our nights are filled with lots of studying and reading and decent bed times to fight the jet lag. Party animals. Quite a change from my last trips to Cape Town. We all grow up sometime. Part of the reason I wanted to come back to Cape Town was to have an entirely different trip than I had on most of my other trips here. Most were characterized by filling the void that rural African life leaves in your American life: McDonalds and beer, with a sightseeing as a second priority, and only the free or cheap sights as we were paid $300 a month as PCVs. This trip I knew would hit many more museums, sights, and cultural experiences that I wasn't able to five years ago.
As excited as I was to have more tourist experiences, I was not excited to "be a tourist" something I seriously avoided as a PCV, taking public transport, avoiding the gaudy tourist buses and overland trips. But when you go with a group of 33 young Americans, most who have never been out of the country before, that feeling is inevitable. After class on the first day we were sent off to partake in the ultimate tourist experience, the Hop On Hop Off bus tour. Mercifully, they let us go off in separate groups, and not as a whole group. Meaghan and I quickly took off while everyone else was getting their group together. For all its gaudiness(apparently that's not a word but I'm rolling with it) the bus does offer a nice overview of the city and its history. We rolled through the colorful houses of Bo Kapp and up Table Mountain (we didn't get off because we'll take a group excursion there soon), and around the backside of the mountain to Camps Bay. Car-less as a Peace Corps volunteer, I never made it to Camps Bay. Settled between the backside of the mountain and the ocean, Camps Bay is the beach town of Cape Town and therefore home to lavish beach houses and delicious beach side restaurants. We "hopped off" the bus in Camps Bay, stuck our toes in the water, and meandered up and down the street and found a good looking Greek restaurant. Meaghan got her oysters (6 for $8, apparently that's a steal) and I found some good looking, fish free food and we enjoyed the beach side location, wrapped in blankets - it is winter here after all. We hopped on the next bus (after a discussion with our waiter about how sad he is that Obama is leaving office) and headed up the coast and the backside of signal hill. It was amazing to see the houses built into the cliff side rocks, squeezed together to make use of every ocean front property. 100 years ago, it was all just farmland. The familiar view of Cape Town stadium remind me of the World Cup atmosphere we were lucky to be apart of all those years ago. The bus talked of the vuvuzelas that filled the stadiums. I remember the vuvuzelas filling the airport and our homesteads as we watched Spain win the cup. We hopped off at my favorite spot in Cape Town, the water front, and moseyed through the mall. We finally stopped at the local brewery where the waiter came too quickly and I couldn't finish my warning to Meaghan that essentially every South African beer was the same, watered down type. She ordered a Hansa and said, I feel like I just ordered a Bud Light. I nodded but told her she had to try it while she was here. I ordered the brewery's pale ale and enjoyed the beginnings of the budding craft beer culture Cape Town was sorely lacking 5 years ago. We headed back to the bus to catch the last one back up to Long Street, only to find the place closed up. Somewhere between military time and winter hours, we missed the last bus. Fortunately, the cabs were near and he whisked us back to our hostel with no one the wiser. Settling in for some pizza and studying, we called it a night.
Day 3: The Tourism Continues
Our orientation to the city continued after breakfast as the group trekked down Kloof Street causing craning necks along the way, as giant groups of Americans do everywhere. The professors probably should have looked at a map before heading off as we stopped and turned around a few times, causing Meaghan and I to hang our heads low and pretend we weren't a part of the typical American tourist experience. We finally arrived at the Slave Lodge Museum at the end of the Company's Gardens. The Slave Lodge was where the Eaat India Trading Company brought the slaves they picked up in India, Indonesia, and Madagascar. Cape Town in that time was just a fueling stop for them, but soon grew with the bustling slave trade. The museum also served, as many do, as an Apartheid Museum. This one paid tribute to the newspaper The Guardian and the journalists that worked as activists first, journalists second. From the 1940s and 50s they fought against in NP, and in the 1960s and 70s when things turned violent towards the peaceful protestors, many of them were banned. It was interesting to see stories of people other than Nelson Mandela who took on the Apartheid in those times.
Next we wandered through the Company's Gardens, a small version of a Central Park, with fish ponds, vegetable gardens, sweeping views of Table Mountain, and a giant statue of Cecil Rhodes. It'll be interesting to see how much longer that statue stays, as protests at the University of Cape Town last year cause his statue to be removed from campus. We headed towards the Iziko Museum, essentially the Smithsonian of South Africa. This one was the South African history museum, with stuffed animals that roam the African continent and swim near its shores (safe to say there was a large shark area and plenty of talk of shark cage diving. Of which I will do a hard pass once again). We wandered through the ancient cave drawings and through a history of the continent itself. There were displays of the many tribes of South Africa, and I was pleased to read about the Swazis there as well. There was even a display on the Great Zimbabwe as well (see my picture around September 2012 in this blog).
We broke for lunch and headed to a burger place next to our hostel that served South Afican style burgers. Lots of blitong (their type of jerky) shavings, peri-peri sauce and other interesting combos. It was very delicious. We spent the afternoon in class and a group meeting before settling down with a cappuccino and some biostatistics in the cafe below the hostel. If that is the theme of the next few weeks, it would be a nice routine to settle into. Sight seeing in the morning, class in the afternoon with coffee and studying in the evening. There are many coffee shops around, that might be a nice niche to explore.
Ta-fa for now. It's a foggy Day 4 in Cape Town. Looks like a trip up Table Mountain will be postponed. I wonder what Plan B will be...