Sunday, October 2, 2016

#5countries2seasons1zara: South Africa 2015

Welcome back to my EXTREMELY BELATED chronicling of the best trip I've ever taken. You may remember that in the summer of 2015 I went on the adventure of a lifetime, documenting my world travel with #5countries2seasons1zara on social media. I meant to blog about each stage right after the trip ended, but the summer flew by, my Korean visa expired, and by the time that all got sorted out, the fall semester began and things got crazy (but what else is new?) and I just never finished documenting everything that I wanted to show! SO HERE WE ARE. 

In summary, I flew from Korea (country #1) to the UAE (country #2) to visit some friends last summer (season #1). I got to the UAE in the height of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting. After a quick 3 days, I flew to South Africa (country #3) and because it's in the southern hemisphere, my July visit fell in the middle of winter (season #2). After 2 great weeks in Cape Town, I flew back to summer (season #1 again) for a week in Italy (country #4) before flying home for a nice long visit with family in Texas (country #5)(jk jk but really). Over the next few weeks (*cough*months*cough*), I will share several posts with pics and stories from my whirlwind adventure! Stay tuned for more! 

My South African Adventure Begins!

If you've talked to me at any point in the past 3.5 years or so, you know I've had a growing appreciation for South Africa pretty much since moving to South Korea. Strange, I know. I've learned how to braai, how to bake milk tart, and how to speak a little Afrikaans here and there, and even how to sokkie (a dance style which is almost as much fun as two-stepping). Why I started learning all this from South Korea, I can't exactly say. South Africa is fascinating to me. Its history is complicated, its current state even more so. There are so many official languages and even more different cultures. 

As an American from the South, the culture that my Afrikaans friends grew up with reminds me a lot of home, what with the whole rugby-braai-sokkie similarities to my familiar football-barbecue-two-step culture. Our cultures even have horrible, heartbreaking similarities in their respective racist pasts, with lingering consequences in current events, if you compare Jim Crow in the American South and Apartheid in South Africa. 

Maybe South African culture reminds me enough of home enough to feel familiar, while still being foreign and different and exciting and new. The combination of different-and-familiar keeps me eager to learn more and more and I COULDN'T WAIT to finally set foot in the country. 

NOT TO MENTION that my darling friend Amy, who dubbed me commonwealthishly Texan, with whom I shared my first braai (as well as my second), who never mocks my attempts at Afrikaans pronunciation (even when I spoke with a Pretoria accent - or worse - American! - instead of her preferred Cape Town accent), the one who confirmed that my first milk tart (melktert) was delicious enough to be legit, yes, this wonderful Amy was my host for TWO WHOLE WEEKS! 

This trip was a long time coming, and thank the Lord that I was able to go! It was marked by several defining things, which I will share with you now! [side bar: I've had a terrible time with writers block while writing this post on-and-off the past few months... I couldn't figure out the best way to organize it! Chronological? Thematic? Ahhhh... here goes a weird mesh of both. ENJOY.]

Amy met me at the airport with this sign in Korean. Commonwealthishly Korean Texan? I'm sure this wasn't confusing to anyone... EXPAT LIFE FOR THE WIN. 

Immediately upon arrival she gave me my very own Cass Abrahams Cape Malay Cookbook *with personalized annotation.* Does she know the way to my heart or does she know the way to my heart??? 

Amy is one of the best hosts. She is generous and ready to do pretty much anything I wanted to do, all while maintaining a good adventure-relaxation balance. 

We rented a cute little car (in Afrikaans: karretjie) and I got a kick out of sitting in the passenger seat on the wrong-I-mean-left side as she drove me around. The views from said passenger seat were stunning. CAPE TOWN YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL, EVEN FROM THE HIGHWAY. (By the end of 2 weeks, I finally got used to going to the wrong-I-mean-left side of the car.)

Amytjie in our karretjie, or "little car"
Ah! Such fun ^^

My first few days were pretty chill. My trip to the UAE had been so busy that it was nice to have a few days to relax and get my bearings in a new place. I was still recovering a little from jet lag and a busy semester of school. There's something really great about slow days with one of your closest old friends, drinking tea and watching British comedy shows. It was lovely!! 

"This was what I call 'fun'" "It is fun, Mother, everyone calls it fun." 

Note: As I will try to show, there were so many great elements to the trip, but it wouldn't have been an accurate sample of South African culture without some heartbreaking realities. Amy and I spent some time confronting the past at Robben Island, at the Cape Town Slave Lodge, and at the District Six Museum. They were all hard to digest, but necessary, I believe, to begin to understand modern South Africa. My trip was full of the good, yes, but also the bad, and the ugly. Here is a little about those last two. 

We went to the District Six Museum on one of my first nights in the country... District Six was a residential area of Cape Town. During Apartheid, thousands of residents of different races were forced to move out. Here's some info from the museum website:  

Originally established as a mixed community of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, labourers and immigrants, District Six was a vibrant centre with close links to the city and the port. By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, the process of removals and marginalisation had begun... and by 1982, the life of the community was over. More than 60 000 people were forcibly removed to barren outlying areas aptly known as the Cape Flats, and their houses in District Six were flattened by bulldozers.

The District Six Museum, established in December 1994, works with the memories of the District Six experience and with that of forced removals more generally.

This world is so broken... 
Humanity. Why do you do this. 
History. Why are you so hard. 

After a heartbreaking walk through history, Amy and I headed over to Long Street for fancy pizza and drinks. SOUTH AFRICA, YOUR FANCY FOOD AND DRINKS ARE AMAZING. Thank you for living up to the hype! 

The night air and lively atmosphere did great things for the mood of the evening. Sitting outside on balconies, not freezing in the middle of winter... Cape Town, I love you! 

Done and done.
I'll talk more about food momentarily, but for now let's go back to history: 

A few days later, we ventured out to Robben Island. I love the phrase from the island's website describing it as a "symbol of the ​triumph of the human spirit over adversity." 

Robben Island was used as a prison for criminal and political prisoners during South Africa's historical colonial and apartheid historical eras. It is most notorious internationally for being the prison where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. 

We took the ferry across the water and it was oh so serene...

And we got a breathtaking view of Table Mountain! 

Shuttle selfies, because Amy + Zara = Faces. 

Once on the island, we were driven around to the quarry, where prisoners worked in lung-disease-generating conditions, but also where great political minds met surreptitiously to share information in an informal, illegal classroom.  

Nelson Mandela's cell.

With Kgotso, our tour guide for the prison on Robben Island. Tour guides here on the island are all former political prisoners under apartheid. The stories they can tell... Kgotso, whose English name is Glen, was a prisoner from 1984-1991. He is literally living history.

At the end of the tour, we had a brief stop for refreshments and another great photo op of Table Mountain. 

We made it back to Victoria Wharf to eat again. I will say it again, South Africa, you know how to do food. YUM. Eating on the water is the best. Eating with live music is the best (except when it's bad live music, then it might not be the best, but I really enjoy it nonetheless). Eating with Amytjie is the best. SO ALL IN ALL IT WAS A GREAT EVENING! Waterfront + Amy + bad live music + really good seafood + delicious wine = LOVE. 

By now, you have possibly picked up on the fact that I love food. Like everywhere else I travel, a major priority on this trip was FOOD. I've spent years getting to know South African people and I've heart tons and tons of stories about food. I was pretty excited to get me some of that. 

Over the next several days, we ate our way through Cape Town and her surrounding area. Dear South Africa, I will eat all your food. Love, Zara. 

Stellenbosch is a haven of hipster goodness. Boerewors wrapped in bacon? Yes please. Chicken stuffed with cheese and veggies? Yep. 

We also had breakfast at a casual dining place with Old West/Native American decor, with cow print and Native American headdresses everywhere. It felt weird, cause I can't remember the last time I saw such obvious Native American cultural appropriation (except when watching the NFL)... But the food was good! And cheap! Thanks, Stephanus, for making sure I ate here. 

We had a family braai after church one Sunday, with Amy's dad leading the way. Chicken, pork chops, bangers, boerewors, salad, and more! Having dinner as a family was just perfect. 

Going to Table Mountain was one of the most epic things that we did, which everyone MUST do when they visit the Mother City! I was planning a hike with some of Amy's family, but the day we planned to hike, it rained. No problem! Ames and I took the cable car up and IT WAS BEAUTIFUL. I'll just have to make another trip to hike it someday! 

I took ALL THE PICTURES of all the scenery and flora and fauna and selfies... as you can see: 

(Ah, if you'd asked me a year ago, I could probably have told you which ocean is which, because from the top you can see the point where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet, but now I can't remember. I'm also having trouble remembering the names of the different mountains we saw from the top, but all this just means I have to go back and see it all again!)

The cable car was a wee bit crowded, so we got to snuggle ^^

We're at the top!

This little creature is called a "dassie," and it's a small, furry, hoofed mammal, related to the elephant. They were everywhere at the top of Table Mountain and they're so cute! Just look at it: IT'S SO FLUFFY! 

The Mother City

Lion's Head & Signal Hill 
A prayer at the top of the mountain
As the sun sank in the sky, we took the cable car back down...

We followed the sunset out to Camps Bay and ate dinner at the beach...

The Twelve Apostles Mountains

"Day is done, gone the sun, from the lakes, from the hills, from the sky.
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh."

One of the other highlights of the trip, of course, was wine!! South African wine is amazing. Cape Town, and especially Stellenbosch (where Amy teaches), is surrounded by vineyards. We had a great time at a number of vineyards over the course of my trip! 

We had wine while drawing on tables: 

We had wine while overlooking this beautiful landscape: 

We had wine while making faces (as usual): 

We had wine while chatting with our sommelier: 

We had wine with chocolate pairings on a perfect winter afternoon: 

Perfect weather = no jacket necessary 

We had wine after taking a walk through a lavender field: 

We also had a lot of coffee! So, yes, we ate and drank pretty much all of my favourite things the whole time. Life is grand.

We had high tea at the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel, which was OH SO FANCY and OH SO DOWNTON ABBIAN. Lady Amy and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves! Such fun!  

Tiny fancy food! 

Other fun things we did: 

We cruised around the weekly market at the Old Biscuit Mill, full of hipster goodness, in Cape Town. 

We spent a chilly evening touring the Stellenbosch Botanical Gardens and found a series of toilet sculptures. Because art. 

I met up with my friend Lindri for great conversation and a craft brew tasting in Stelly.

Did you know that when clouds hang low over Table Mountain it is called a Tablecloth? Pun! I LOVE IT. 

We went to an Afrikaans bookstore! I might have left with a few things to (pretend that I can) read. 

We went to an Afrikaans chick flick! It was horrible. And wonderful. So cheesy, so predictable, and so perfect. Amy is so so so good at planning things I like to do! 

AND THEN WE WENT WHALE WATCHING! I know, right??? Pictures can not do this justice! The whole day was amazing. 
Whales, y'all, whales. Not the animals everyone expected me to see while on vacation in Africa. Just wait - it gets better. 

On the road to Hermanus to find the whales
Ocean! Waves crashing! I could sit here all day.

Whale! They would come up so fast and then sink back down before I could get a shot, but it doesn't matter. I was mesmerized! 
Most of the time they looked like giant moving rocks, then once in a while they'd do a flip and we'd see their fins or tails.

Watching from the rocks
Watching from the shore - she was a little worried I would fall in.
But I didn't fall - not even once.
Can you see them? They're the dark shadows in the water.

All the whale watching and climbing on rocks made us hungry -- lunch time! YAY MORE FOOD!

Surprise! It's a gift-wrapped salad

Gelato break


THEY'RE SO CUTE! And stinky. 

So many penguins! 
Why did the penguin cross the road?

On my last weekend, Amy's mom requested that I make malva pudding, a traditional South African dessert that I learned how to make while living in Korea. WHAT. I was very intimidated! Amy's mom is a real South African mama, who has been making real South African food her whole life. I am a Texan who learned how to do this in Asia and *she* wanted *me* to bake for her?? So... I did, and it turned out ok, and we ate it with custard and watched rugby. Go Springboks! 

And then we went dancing at a college bar and it was so much fun! The first time I tried to sokkie (at a braai in Korea), it was horrible. I didn't know what I was doing or how to follow. So this time, I gave up trying to control everything and just relaxed and let the guy guide me around the floor and it was so much better! We had a great time, and even accidentally crashed a bachelor party, and his fiance's bachelorette party. Belaglik! 

The last beautiful day before I had to fly out, we went to the Spice Route in Paarl. Spice Route is an entire event! Everything fancy to eat or drink can be found here. Its website calls it "a sensory feast for today’s connoisseurs of craftsmanship and authenticity," and if that's not the perfect description for this level of amazing snobbery, I don't know what is. I loved it! Amy and I did a wine tasting, a chocolate tasting, and a gelato tasting, but there is so much more to do! It could take an entire day to fully experience it all. I'll have to return! 


One final scenic drive around Cape Town and my trip was complete... 

WOW I am so full of emotions right now! Recalling all the good, bad, and in between of the trip has been a journey by itself. I am blown away by how much we did, and ate, and saw, all in 2 short weeks! It really was the perfect blend of action and rest. Amy, I can't fully express how grateful I am for your friendship and presence in my life. Thank you, thank you for letting me experience your country like this! You were a most amazing hostess! I can't wait to see you again, and until then give your parents my love! 

Bag packed and wrapped, ready for check in. See you soon, Italy! 

One last tea with Amy and Mrs. Daniels before my flight boarded... 

Off to Milan! Stay tuned for the next instalment of #5countries2seasons1zara: Italy 2015! (If I write the next one as quickly as I've written the UAE and South Africa instalments, it could be posted as early as February 2017. We shall see!)