The following content is comprised of personal opinions, and in no way reflects the opinions of the Peace Corps or the U.S. Government.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Re: Blow-Your-Mind Delicious (or How I Ended Up in South Africa Part II)

After rolling across near-all of South Africa for 28 hours on a train,
I was as ready as ever to get off and get my real vacation started. I
held on to the rail as the train slowed and watched the other tracks
converge together as we approached Cape Town Station. The train had
barely stopped before I jumped down and made my way out of the
station. I was headed towards Long Street and the rest of my Peace
Corps vacation buddies.

But I had done my homework. I knew that Long Street was 4 block west
of the train station. I also knew that there was a Subway Restaurant
two blocks off Long Street just passed the hostel. Yeah, that

After getting my fill of Americana for the first time in nearly 10
months, I turned back and found Two Oceans Backpackers, where we would
be staying while in Cape Town. To my dismay, the rest of the crew were
not there (remember, their flight landed at about 9am in Cape Town)
but the receptionist informed me that they had come and gone and
hadn't said when they would return. I told her I was the last member
of their group and she showed me into the room.

Two Oceans is a pretty awesome place. Set above a small furniture
store, we had a fully-stocked kitchen and laundry room (which was in
the kitchen, how… European), a flat-screen TV with more channels than
Aaron and I could surf through in 10 days (we tried), a pool table,
hot showers, and a balcony overlooking the best and worst of Long

I tried to call Aaron using MTN (the cell provider in Rwanda who is
also a major provider in South Africa and, in fact, most countries in
Africa) and managed to eat through a few thousand francs on several
failed attempts. With nothing left to do but wait, I tapped into the
hostels wireless internet (oops, did I forget to mention they had
that, too?) and checked my email. While on Gmail, I noticed that
Danielle, one of Rwanda's resident Fulbright Scholars, was online. In
a moment of sheer brilliance (mostly on her part), she was able to use
the MTN Rwanda services to send me some phone credit while I looked up
on Google how to dial internationally from inside South Africa (which
is actually really tricky). With some more money and a plan, I was
finally able to get ahold of Deanne who, as it turns out, had just
sent Markey and Kerry into the hostel to find me. She remarked that
they were all just down the street 'with Emma and the car.' Wait,

As it turns out, we knew a South African. Something like Matt's
brother had studied in South Africa and had had a local Teaching
Assistant of sorts. The whole connection was kinda lost on me. But
also as it turns out, Emma (our new friend) had a car. I grabbed my
jacket and booked it down the staircase while a guy on the hostel's
couch remarked offhandedly about two girls coming to look for me.
Outside, I spotted Markey and Kerry and caught up with them at 'the

The car was admittedly not very big. I peered inside and said hi to
Emma in the front and Aaron and Matt in the back, who were soon
scrunched in by Kerry and Markey. I climbed in the front and we took
off in search of a place to eat. It was several stoplights (what an
invention!) later before I realized something was amiss.
"Wait," I said, counting the people in the small car. "Where's
Deanne?" Aaron let out a laugh and Emma just grinned.
"Back here!" came Deanne's muffled reply. She was in the trunk.

We arrived at a local Mexican restaurant and, after letting Deanne out
of the trunk, headed inside. The place was filled with locals from the
nearby University. But these locals were also white, so as long as we
kept our mouths shut or didn't speak too loud, they'd never know.

Now, something peculiar happened as we sat down to order (maybe not
too peculiar, but a little out there for me). See, in Rwanda, I had
decided that I didn't like how I didn't like a lot of foods,
especially ones I had never tried. I had already vowed to challenge
these unknowns, but the variety of food in Rwanda is rather limited.
However, not so in South Africa. I had in front of me the perfect
opportunity to challenge my blind taste perceptions with 'exotic'
food. I don't remember exactly what I ordered that night, which might
be due to the two giant pitchers of margaritas we sucked down prior to
eating as a group, but I do remember that it was good.

With our livers on duty and our stomachs overly full, Emma drove us
back to Long Street and the hostel, where most of us were content to
simply crash and watch TV. Matt, however, had been in contact with
another local South African who had promised to take him out for a
drink. Not wanting to go alone, he invited the rest of the group. They
all had, however, just rediscovered Sports Center (something I had
done earlier that day) and were pretty complacent. So Matt and I
headed back down out onto Long Street and met up with our new new
friend (who also had two American study abroad students with him).
Side note, apparently it's legal to park on the corner of two streets
on the side walk cap in South Africa. Yeah, we did that. (As it turns
out, this isn't legal; it's just that no one pays traffic tickets in
South Africa.)

Our new new friend led us back onto Long Street were we walked into a
random building and got into the elevator (another great invention!).
At this point, Matt and I were both wondering what we'd agreed to when
the elevator opened and we found ourselves inside another hostel. We
walked down the hostel's hallways, through the kitchen and then
through an emergency exit door and up a flight of stairs. Our doubts
started to creep back in until we walked through the door at the top
of the stairs and found ourselves on the roof, where a quaint and
beautiful open-air bar was set up. College students shot pool, others
played foosball, and the beer was decently priced at 12 Rand (about
$1.75). Save for being on a roof overlooking the southern cape of
Africa, it was just like being back in the States (this is going to be
a reoccurring theme of the vacation).

We arrived at the Rooftop Bar (I have no idea what the real name of
the bar was [which will be another reoccurring theme of the vacation])
at about 10pm and were already feeling the margaritas from the Mexican
place (which I want to say was named Harry's). A few beers, games of
pool, and a foosball tournament later, Matt and I decided it might be
a good idea to call it and head back to Two Oceans. We checked our
watches. It was almost 1am. And that's Day 1.

Day two was one of our few days with absolutely nothing planned or
scheduled. Aaron and Deanne snuck away from the group for a day to
have a getaway in Simon's Town on False Bay, so Matt, Kerry, Markey,
and I awoke a little late (Matt and I more than the others) and met
Emma who drove us down the coast to a breakfast place that she loved.
After breakfast, our on-the-spot plan was going to be to try to climb
Table Mountain, but Emma convinced us to take advantage of her day off
and let her tour us around. We agreed without much hesitation (having
a car opens up so much more of Cape Town).

After breakfast, Emma drove across the cape towards False Bay. We
turned off the main road and ended up on the side of a decent sized
hill with awe-inspiring views of mountains on three sides and massive
False Bay on the other. Continuing on, we visited a winery where Emma
used to work and tasted some wine (there's just something about
drinking wine at noon…) before heading into Muizenburg.

Muizenburg is one of the premier surfing spots in Cape Town and, even
though it was 'winter' and therefore a little cold (but nothing like a
good Minnesotan winter), was rather active. We swung into Knead, a
restaurant well-known for its bread and pizza and had even more great
food. Sorry, nothing too 'exotic' at this meal. Emma had some work to
so she dropped us back off at Long Street. After a swing-in to the
hostel while the sun set, we headed out for a Long Street pub crawl.

We started out at the Dubliner, an obviously-themed Irish pub with
nightly live music. The music that night, however, was a not-so-decent
set of 90's covers. We finished our Guinness' quickly and ducked out
to avoid going insane. Too bad; we had heard great things about the
Dubliner although it wasn't our last experience with it. The Dubliner
having been our only real recommendation, we resided to walking down
Long Street until we found a place that looked intriguing. 3 blocks
later we spotted what appeared to be a rather fancy Italian place
where the tables were all set in a front yard of sorts under massive
oak trees. What better place to laugh and drink?

Pleased with the atmosphere and the humorous waiter, we asked him
where we should go next for drinks. He recommended another place just
a few more blocks up Long Street that also had good drinks (it was
also coincidentally owned by the same company). Cool Atmosphere Place
#2 was cool for completely different reasons and it was difficult to
see how both restaurant s could be owned by the same group. CAP #2
(the whole Peace Corps acronym things is rubbing off, I guess) was
almost like a scene strait out of Moulin Rouge. The wait staff were
all in vaguely Bohemian dress, all of the inside tables had rope
swings instead of chairs, the outside was stucco-white with brown wood
trim and growing vines. Another round of drinks later, in which Kerry
was convinced there was no gin in hers and the bartender congratulated
her on her ability to take alcohol because he swore he put more than
usual in it, we were on our way back down Long Street to investigate
some places we passed up.

Next up was a random bar that offered R10 (that means 10 Rand) vodka
shots of questionable quality. We ducked in for a minute for the
novelty of the literally hundreds of kinds of horrible vodka. That
place is mostly memorable partially because of their tip jar. It was
hung from a rope behind the bar by about 6 feet with a sign taped to
it that claimed that anyone who could throw a R2 coin into it would
get a free shot. What we didn't know what that as soon as Markey was
getting ready to toss the coin I gave her, the bartender reached up
and swung the bucket in quick circles. Markey still took her shot and
sunk it on the first try. And we'd already been drinking for several

After the novelty wore off, the general consensus was food. We
remembered a place we'd past up earlier that wasn't too far from our
hostel; Pickwick's. We walked in and, even at midnight, had trouble
finding a place to sit. Finally snagging a picnic table on the
upstairs balcony, we asked the waitress if they still served food,
which was apparently a stupid question because 'everybody knows
Pickwick's serves food until 4:30am.' I am not making that up.

Pickwicks was also our first encounter with spiked milkshakes. That's
right, milkshakes with alcohol in them. After a massive burger (I
PROMISE we'll get to the interesting food soon) and a Jack Daniels
shake that didn't taste like alcohol at all, we were ready to crash.
Good thing the hostel was only 2 block away. No TV this night.
Straight to bed.

Day 3 Matt and I concocted a new plan. Seeing as we canceled the
previous day's plans to summit Table Mountain, we decided today was
the day. Matt and I set out just before 6 with crude directions from
Emma as to how to get to the trails that would take us up. Our
original plan was to hike up the mountain, revel at the top, then take
the cable car back down midday. Admittedly, we had no idea what we
were doing.

Our first attempt at getting to the Mountain was met with the locals
laughing at how we were in the wrong part of town. We quickly
regrouped, asked for clarification, and walked back past the hostel
and to the train station, where we caught a 15 minute train to the
opposite side of the Mountain and started walking towards the summit.
The trail (at least what we were convinced was the trail) switched
back and forth across this side of the Mountain before turning strait
up and heading into a place I swear was called 'Dead Man's Ravine.' I
had experienced nothing like the steepness of this ravine since being
in Scotland…

Finally dragging ourselves onto level ground, we found ourselves in
The Devil's Saddle. Aptly named, if you ask me. We had another
climbing council and decided we could still make it up to the actual
top of Table Mountain and to the cable car (which we could now see for
the first time) and back down in time to keep our original meet-time
with the girls. We set out to the south and began climbing towards the
actual Table Mountain, which from the Devil's Saddle requires class 3
scrambling (hands and feet most of the way). 45 minutes later, Matt
and I stopped before a 100 meter cheer cliff wall. As it turns out,
it's almost impossible to climb from the Devil's Saddle to Table
Mountain. With the summit taunting us the whole way, we escaped back
down into the Saddle, off the south side of the Mountain, and strolled
back into Cape Town.

We met Markey and Kerry at the train station and hopped on a train to
Simon's Town, where we were meeting Aaron and Deanne. An hour later,
we all met up at a decent restaurant in Simon's Town for lunch. Given
that Matt and I had just tried to summit Table Mountain (even though
we failed) and they only had one line fish special left (which Aaron
claimed dibbs on), we both opted for a two-burger special. 2 bottles
of wine for the table later (which included a bottle of Goats Do Roam,
a play on words with the famous French wine ________) and we were all
pretty happy.

Finally, the day's main event: Penguins. Yes there are penguins in
South Africa. I forget exactly what kind of penguins they were, but
I'm pretty sure they're the only penguins indigenous to a place that
is a block of ice. They inhabit a protected beach about half a mile
south of town which allows tourists and penguin enthusiasts alike to
observe them via boardwalks set a few feet above the sand. The park
staff warned us that these penguins will bite you if you get too
close, something the group ahead of us didn't listen to. After seeing
that, I really had no desire to attempt to pet a penguin.

Up next we had a dilemma. The last train back to Cape Town left at 7pm
and it was already 4:30. We were all really excited for seafood dinner
in Simon's Town, but knew we would never make the train. Aaron came
through in the end and called a local driver (who was supposed to take
Deanne and him fishing the previous day if it weren't for the high
winds) who agreed to drive us back later.

With that set we headed to a place nicknamed 'The Naked Chef.' To our
initial dismay, the Naked Chef wasn't working that night (although as
it turns out he just cooks shirtless), but we were assured his
full-clothed son was just as good of a cook. As we waited for our food
to come, we notice a bakery across the street, where most of us
discovered donuts and assorted pastries for the first time since

Dinner that night got a little… filling. Now, I've never really been a
seafood person (at least not beyond fish and shrimp poppers) but
tonight was MY night. After perusing the menu, Aaron and I decided to
order together: one kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) of ribs and one kilo
(again 2.2 pounds) of Prawns. Now, if you're like me, you have no idea
exactly what prawns are. Think of them as oversized shrimp. Or if
you've ever seen 'District 9' (where the aliens are nicknamed 'Prawns'
due to their facial resemblance to the food), my plate reminded me of
the scene where they open the mothership and all of the aliens are
lying about starving to death. Not the best way to start a meal. Also
up for consumptions was a small portion of calamari (I have no idea if
that how you spell it or not). I wasn't the biggest fan mostly due to
its rubbery texture, but Kerry assured me that good calamari doesn't
taste nearly as rubbery.

Luckily, you don't normally eat the heads which were visually the most
obnoxious part. Aaron showed me how to crack open the shell and
removed the head and tail. I do have to admit, the prawns were pretty
good. The waitress quickly came over and showed us how to remove the
heads in such a way that all of the brain-juice stayed inside, which
she insisted was the best part. Hesitant to believe her, Aaron and I
tried it. Aaron was a much bigger fan of the prawn brain juice than I
was. Can't win 'em all…

The ribs were admittedly nothing 'exotic' to me but were still pretty
damn good. Like falling off the bone good. With over 4 and a half
pounds of food (not including the salads and fries), Aaron and I were
doing pretty good when he dropped to help Deanne finish her food. He
came back, though, to help me top them off which was good because my
stomach was about to burst…

Day 4 brought us east of Cape Town to what we'd all be waiting for:
shark diving. Our diving company's van picked up in at Two Oceans
ridiculously early in the morning and shuttled out about 2 hours east
to Gaasbei (that's not how you spell that, I'm sure). As we pulled
into the parking lot, the driver (and later on our Dive Master)
pointed out the boat we'd be taking out in a little bit. Aaron
careened his neck to be able to see it out the window and just shook
his head. "We're going to need a bigger boat."

3 waivers and $247 later, we boarded the boat and chopped our way away
from shore. The tour company had had a group out previous and let the
cage tied to a buoy. This had the added effect of having sharks
already lingering around the cage for us. When we arrived, the crew
strapped the small cage to the boat and began to chum the water while
we donned wetsuits and facemasks.

The cage was wide enough for about 5 people shoulder-to-shoulder and
left just enough room for you to almost be able to fully extend your
arms. Once inside the cage, the crew slipped a weighed sash over our
shoulder that was desgined to lower us a few extra inched below the
surface once we let go of the hang-on bar. We had no SCUBA devices, no
snorkels, no breathing apparatuses at all. When a shark passed by the
cage (lured by the bait the crew would throw out and then pull back in
at the last minute), the Dive Master would yell 'DOWN!' and we'd all
let go of the hang-on bar. While visibility was really good above the
water, once you were submerged it dwindled to about 4 and a half feet.
We'd usually get under the water just in time to lose sight of the 17
foot Great White Shark, only to have it instantly appear in front of
our faces and turn to swim alongside the boat, wondering where the
tuna heads had gone.

We were told not to be afraid of the sharks. First of all because
sharks generally know that humans have alotta bones and not much
energy-rich meat. Also because, while they were capable of detecting
us moving inside the cage, they overwhelming sense of the cage's metal
was more prevelant to them than our form. They know what a boat is and
know it isn't alive. They then associate the big metal thing with
moving parts as a part of the boat, and therefore not alive. This
sounds great until you are quite literally staring one of these things
in the face. On top of that, these massive sharks we were seeing (we
had 7 total) were mere adolescents. They are curious about the boat
and merely intrigued by the bait (they know dead fish don't provide
much energy), which is why they come to the surface. Their wiser and
older (and much bigger) friends stay beneath the surface where the
prey is better.

After getting our fill of the sharks and fighting our way through
4-meter high swells, we made it back to land, dried off, and were
shuttled back towards Cape Town. On the way, we stopped at another
small bay to try to spot a few whales. We could see them in the water,
but they were far enough out that we wouldn't have been able to tell
what they were had the drive/dive master/tour guide not told us what
they were.

That night we went out for dinner at a burger joint as a group. Aaron
and Matt sampled some of the local beers while the rest of us opted
for more spiked milkshakes. First up was a Jack Daniels with Peanut
Butter. I almost died. Most of us got burgers that night, and while my
lamb burger was pretty spectacular, Aaron took the cake with the Fat
Bastard. I can't remember what was all in there, I just remember there
being 4 different kinds of meat and being surprised that Aaron didn't
have a heart attack then and there. But I think I took the dessert
cake (hehe…) with my milkshake concoction of Oreo, chocolate brownie,
and Kahlua. For the win.

Day 5 brought us once again out of Cape Town and into the Stellenbosch
wine region to the north where we had arranged no less than 4 wine
tours. Throughout the day, we dried more wines (and cheeses, too!)
than I think I have ever seen in my life. I still would never claim to
be an expert on wine, which is why I really cannot go into specifics.
We were treated to a steak lunch by our awesome tour guide between the
third and fourth vineyards. By the time we piled back into the van to
return to Cape Town, we each must have had a solid 8 glasses of wine.
It was then that Aaron busted the road wine…

Day 6 was supposed to be one of our relaxation and no-planning days in
Cape Town. Unfortunalty, it was alos our last day in Cape Town. Emma
returned to take us to this amazing food festival. If you're ever in
Cape Town, I would highly recommend it. Although I cannot remember its

We arrived early morning and feasted on waffles, truffles, oysters,
cheese steaks, pizzas, beer, chocolate liquor out of tiny chocolate
cups, and many other fantastical things I cannot remember. At one
point, I couldn't find any of the others and sat down with a massive
chocolate and cream Oreo-esk puff ball to wait it out. Just as I
finished it, I noticed a wine shop offering free wine tastings and
talks with the Wine Master. I knew then and there I had found Aaron
even before I walked in.

We headed back towards town, where the girls decided to do some
last-minute shopping before dinner that night. Us guys headed to an
Irish pub (let's call it O'Malley's) to drink expensive whiskey none
of us could pronounce the name of and watch the end of a cricket
match. That as my second time watching Cricket (the first in Scotland
for a full 4-hour game) and I must say I still have no idea what the
hell was going on. We waited around a little bit for the rugby match
to start (South Africa was playing to qualify for the world
tournament). Rugby is one of the most brutal yet awesome sports I have
ever seen and I have to say Aaron and Matt and I really got into it
towards the end.

For the main event, we all went to one of Cape Town's well know sushi
restaurants. Yes, you read that correctly. We went for sushi. And I
ate sushi. With chop sticks. I have pictures to prove it. Later that
night we had heard that Pickwicks would be having karaoke. We decide
it would be cool to go as a group, drink some more spike milk shakes,
and sing a few songs. Matt was the only one brave enough to sing…

In the morning, the rest of the group scrambled out of bed early to
catch their plane to Johannesburg, where they would spend the day. I,
on the other hand, had another date with a train. As I found out on my
return trip from Cape Town to Johannesburg, me initial trip was rather
lucky; we were only 20 minutes late.

At about 3 in the morning, I was awoken for the most peculiar reason;
the train was NOT tossing me from side to side. Peering out the
window, I could see we were in the middle of nowhere, stopped. For 8

We would find out later that a section of the track was without
electricity, meaning our fancy new electric engine couldn't carry us
across it. So we had to sit and wait for a diesel engine to work its
way down the line, grab us, and tow us across the dead section. It was
an interesting show to watch the European man in the cabin with me
freak out on the train manager (who had slept through 'the incident').
Because of the delay, we pulled into Park Station in downtown
Johannesburg at 9:30pm instead of the schedule 1:48pm. Not sure why
they bother being so precise if the trains are always late…

The group had stayed with Bash (a friend ofEmma's) and her parents the
night before and had to be at the airport for a 1am flight. Unsure if
I really wanted to hang out in the airport for 12 hours until my
flight, I caught a taxi to the 'burbs were Bash lived and met up with
the group for an amazing dinner (including more South African Wine).
After dropping the others off at the airport, I had a full-sized bed
that was HEATED. Yeah.

in the morning, Bash had to duck out early, so her mother forced me to
eat some breakfast and drove me to the metro station, where I was able
to catch a downtown train to the airport, board my plane, and return
to Rwanda. But not after 8 hours in the air and 6 hours in various

And that's How I Ended up in South Africa.

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