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Sunday Snapshots: Happy Birthday Alex

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Today was a day to celebrate my lovely husband, Alex, or, as he is often known here in Moz, Alexi. Today Alex turned 28, and we spent the day in Vilanculos to celebrate

The day started with a super delicious brunch.

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Followed soon after by a cocktail, enjoyed in a similar fashion to last year’s birthday beer that was thrown out the window of a moving car, by some new friends we had made in Malolotja Nature Reserve in Swaziland.

We then set out for a fatbike ride down the beach, to some red dunes in a sleepy bay north of the main hub of Vilanculos.

Of course, we made some new crianca (child) friends along the way, as is the norm nearly anywhere you go in Moz. We were quite thankful to have them later, as we searched for a path to the road at the top of the dunes.

 

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Happy Birthday Alex! Cheers to another year of adventuring behind us and many more ahead.

Sunday Snapshot: Home Sweet Sweet Potato

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It’s always nice to go away, and it’s always nice to come home, especially when the garden is growin’. After getting home from our recent travels in South Africa, Alex and I began our first sweet potato harvest. We dug and dug, following long, reaching roots to their ends, where we found some sweet potatoes as small as cherry tomatoes and others as big as grapefruits.

Photo Cred to Alex.

South Africa: Driving Cape Town to Durban

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After spending a few days in Cape Town enjoying the V & A Waterfront Food Market and an extremely informative and interesting tour of Robben Island, we set out for our 10 day drive from Cape Town to Durban.

Day 1:

Cape Town City Center > Gansbaai, Western Cape: 162 kilometers

 Alex and I and his uncle Dempsey woke up early for a quick hike up Lion’s Head Mountain. We weren’t the only ones with the idea of hiking the mountain early to enjoy the 360 degree views of the Cape Town sunrise. Even with the Indiana-ana Jones (Indiana’s female counterpart, as I am a female) ladders and chains bolted into the rocks to assist during the steep sections of the hike, we made it to the top in about 45 minutes.

After the hike, three of our group of six headed out to sort out rental cars and the other three of us went on a short jaunt to the Bo Kaap neighborhood in Cape Town to stroll the streets between the cheery, bright houses and to search out the Rose Corner Cafe, for some coconut donuts that I had read about.

Then, it was time to begin our road trip from Cape Town to Durban. Once we reached Gansbaai, we stayed just a little outside of town at White Shark Backpackers, a beachfront house-turned-hostel in a quiet neighborhood. Gansbaai is a hotspot for cage diving with Great Whites, which was why it was a stop along our route. However, within about 5 minutes of arriving, Alex and Dempsey’s hopes of cage diving were quickly dashed: the boats weren’t running for the next 5 days because the seas were too rough.

The news stung, and they wrestled to come to terms with missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime, only-in-SA activity.

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Pounding waves at sunrise in Gansbaai.

Day 2:

Gansbaai > Cape Agulhas > Mossel Bay: 364 kilometers

Today was to be a very happy day for me! I had been utterly disappointed and real peeved back in December when we arrived at Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope and I found out that it wasn’t, in fact, the southernmost point in Africa, but the southwestern most point…Alex swears that I was actually more upset that this wasn’t the true meeting place of the two oceans, as all their signs claim.

“Guh! What?? Who cares about this place!!?” I balked, as Alex laughed at the fact that I didn’t know this.

It was only then that I found out the true southernmost point is Cape Agulhas, a sleepy (at least in winter) little place hundreds of kilometers away, and completely out of our reach on that December trip. I had come to terms with the fact that I would most likely never stand on the southernmost tip of Africa, but on Day 2 of our road trip, I got a second chance.

After an unbeatable fish ‘n chips lunch in the town of L’Agulhas, we headed to the point for some peace of mind and windy pics.

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In the early afternoon, we went on to Mossel Bay, about 270 km, or 3 hours away, and arrived at Park House Lodge in the early evening. As is common in South Africa, we’ve found, Park House was another house-turned-hostel, an old stone house with a maze of rooms, a shaded lawn and garden, and a top-notch area to braai (the South African name for a good ‘ole BBQ).

Unexpectedly, Alex and Dempsey’s once-in-a-lifetime, only-in-SA opportunity was waiting for them in Mossel Bay. It was quickly decided that the two of them, and Alex’s mom Susan would spend the next day cage diving with Great Whites.

Day 3:

Mossel Bay: 0 kilometers

I made sure to get an early morning smooch from Alex, just in case his face looked as good to a Great White as it does to me. Then, the three cage divers set off for the boat launch, a gray sky threatening rain above them.

I rose slowly, found an empty dorm room to do yoga in, ate, and drank coffee, making for a lovely and relaxed morning for me. Once Alex’s aunt Alma, and her mom Lilia got up and ready, the three of us headed out in search of Kingfisher, a recommended restaurant for someone seeking seafood. We walked through some blowing, light rain, and arrived at the restaurant, right on the point, overlooking the ocean. After some yummy fish and calamari, we walked along the ocean, then made our way back to Park House, stopping in the indoor flea market/craft market on the way.

Meanwhile, the other three of our six were getting up close and personal with the Great Whites, an experience that did not disappoint.

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You may be asking-as my own mama did- why I didn’t get up close and personal with Great Whites. The answer: I didn’t want to. One avid diver I met said she skipped out on this activity because she doesn’t agree with the baiting of the sharks and the subsequent relationships that the sharks form between humans and that free fish the humans tempt them with. But my reason isn’t so well-thought out. I can’t tell you why really, but I can tell you that I didn’t have much interest in cage diving from the start, and the unrelenting cold and wind on our trip up to this point just pushed me further from wanting to get in the water.

I can also tell you that the three that went were bursting with excitement about the experience. Since I wasn’t there, let’s hear from them about what they thought of it:

Alex: “It’s neat….I don’t know.”

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Dempsey: “‘It’s neat…I don’t know?’.!!??…Let me think about it for a minute. Can I say something as corny as: glad I’m not a seal?”

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Susan: “The one and only time I liked being in a cage.”

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So, there you have it folks: the riveting and descriptive words of the cage divers.

Maybe I’m remembering wrong, but I’m pretty sure they were talking a lot more about how spectacular, crazy, really cool, and just incredible it was day-of.

Oh, and to get the other side of the story on baiting, they mentioned that their guide said they don’t bait new sharks into the bay-the sharks they see are the same sharks they always see- and that the very small number of shark attacks in the area proves that the baiting does not cause sharks to show any extra interest in humans.

So, it’s up to you to decide: how do you feel about baiting Great Whites for cage diving?

Our day in Mossel Bay wrapped up over an amazing braai that we cooked up for ourselves, enjoying the steak, potatoes, and veggies almost as much as the conversation with a few locals that were hanging out at the hostel, gathering around the braai coals to stay warm and cook up their dinner.

Day 4:

Mossel Bay > Plettenberg Bay/Crags: 144 kilometers

With the whole group happy and satisfied with our time in Mossel Bay, we headed off with the intention of staying the night in a town called Kynsna. Earlier on in their two-month trip around Southern Africa, Alex’s fam had met a South African girl that is currently living in Knysna. So, they had made arrangements to meet up with her for a meal. After eating lunch among the sailboats at the cozy Knysna waterfront, Alex’s mom, Susan, found out that their friend had had to travel to Johannesburg and would not be able to meet up with us. As it was still early afternoon, we decided to keep on keepin’ on, and ended up at an off-the-beaten-path hostel in Crags, outside of Plettenberg Bay.

This woodsy little hostel was full to the brim with people of its namesake: Wild Spirit. It was wild spirits indeed that filled all the space here around the fire rings and drum circles, between the wooden painted hearts and quotes about an inspired life, and up in the Sunset Tree of Love  tree house.

Here we found that eclectic mix of travelers that can be at once interesting and overwhelming, inspiring and a just a bit obnoxious: the nomadic Florida-native with dreads down her back who talked nonstop about all the places she’s been, the two Americans trying for Cape to Cairo on motorbikes, the host of South African youth volunteers that more or less run the place, and the man that smilingly balked at me for eating “government” (bought from a supermarket) bread.

Soon enough, we parted with that evil government bread, making multiple trips to the nearby Nature Valley Farm Stall. The farm stalls dotting this part of SA were reminiscent of Vermont: small country farms and vendors selling wholesome, homemade goods that have nothing to do with “big brother.”

Jokes aside though, I do like a homemade bread and used to make my own back in America to avoid all those nasty chemicals that we find in that gov bread. So it was that the farm stall was probably my favorite part of our couple days in this area. Over our two days here, we enjoyed fresh breads, granola bars, baked goods, quiches, meat pies, veggie pies, raw veggies, wine, and one contested apricot fruit roll, the only farm stall item that was not unanimously agreed upon as ‘good’ by our group of six.

Day 5

Crags/Plettenberg Bay: 0 kilometers

Mid-morning on our full day in the Crags area, five of our six loaded into the hostel’s free ‘hiking shuttle.’ The shuttle was a small commuter car- three of us in the back and Alma on Dempsey’s lap up front- driven by one of the volunteers, who took us to the general area of the Kalanderkloof trailhead in TsiTsikamma National Park. The beginning of the hike awarded us with views of the lagoon and ocean below, which would make up another section of the hike. After about 30 minutes of walking, we began to descend into a damp rain forest, leaving behind our first kisses of sun in about a week. At the bottom of our descent, we discovered some massive trees- one or two to rival the Redwoods, winter-dried ferns, funky fungi, and, perhaps one of my favorite things of nature: crispy, crunchy leaves on the forest floor. After scuffling through what seemed to be a dry creek bed, the trail popped out on the R102 road. As were the instructions, we turned right and followed the road for about 10 minutes, and then turned into a lagoon-side recreation area and walked along the lagoon until we reached the beach. Finding ourselves once again in the warm sun, Susan and I quickly stowed our long sleeved shirts in our packs, excited to see the sun again. Within 2 minutes, the long sleeves went back on, after turning the corner into a fierce sea “breeze.” Even through the wind, the almost-deserted beach was a pleasant place to walk for about 30 minutes. From the beach, we cut up to the Nature’s Valley Restaurant and Pub, where we enjoyed a picnic lunch of hard-boiled eggs, cheese, and non-government bread at a table beside a tree whose branches dangled with the dirty and duct-taped footwear of those who had ended their 45 kilometer hike of the Otter Trail. After lunch, we opted to skip the steep uphill hike back to the trailhead and instead called the shuttle for a pickup, and headed promptly to the magical farm stall upon our return.

Day 6

Crags/Plettenberg Bay > Chintsa: 551 kilometers

After our final visit to the beloved farm stall for snacks and lunch goodies, we set off for a long day of driving. Through rolling hills, and on good roads, it was smooth sailing, despite the long-kilometerage (is that an equivalent to mileage??)

Aware that we were getting a bit short on time at this point, and wanting to linger a bit on the Wild Coast, we bypassed a number of seemingly worthwhile stops on this section of our drive. If you have a bit more time to linger, this stretch of coast line certainly seems to have a lot to offer, from the surf spots of Jeffrey’s Bay, to the adventure sports and history of Port Elizabeth, and the 600+ ‘ellies’ of Addo Elephant National Park.

Quite honestly, what I remember most about this day is the delicious pumpkin and chickpea pie that I ate for lunch in the car.

The rest is history, right?

Day 7

Chintsa: 0 kilometers

On our only full day in Chintsa, Alex and I left the campsites- shaded in the morning by big hills- and went seeking the sun. We skirted the edge of a lagoon, and were on the beach within minutes. We spent a bit of time poking around some nearby tide pools, surprised at how warm the water was. After following a path up one of the bluffs, heading slowly away from the campsites we thought it would head towards, we backtracked and bushwhacked until we popped out among the trees of our campsites, satisfied with our mini-adventure.

Our accommodation at Chintsa was my favorite of all the places we stayed on this drive. We stayed at Bucaneer’s, a clean and quiet hostel that hardly felt like a hostel at all. The heart of the hostel is at the top of a hill, with amazing views of the sea from the reception area, bar, and backpacker’s kitchen. All is tidy, warmly but minimally decorated, and flooded with natural light. This hilltop backpacker’s kitchen was as clean as any air bnb we could have found. The deck was the perfect place to soak up morning sun, and the indoor comfy seating was a welcome reprieve from the chilling evening winds that we had been out in since the trip started. From this central part of Bucaneer’s, dorms, private rooms, and lush plant life line the sides of a road leading downhill. At the bottom of the hill there is access to the lagoon-where you can use the canoes for free- and beach, as well as a pool and pool bar, sand volleyball court, and large camping area with it’s own kitchen facilities.

Alex and I enjoyed a bit of time paddling around the lagoon, and later fought the wind on an afternoon walk down the beach. Even with just one day here Chintsa felt like a place of rejuvination, and it’s an area that I wish we could have spent a couple more days in, exploring the little town of East Chintsa and going for yoga and/or breakfast at a nearby spot, whose name-Tea in the Trees- piqued my interest.

But, with a couple days and a considerable amount of kilometerage left to cover, we said our goodbyes to charming Chintsa.

 

Day 8

Chintsa > Port Shepstone: 515 kilometers

Everything about this day, this overly-ambitious, mostly unenjoyable day, is a bit of a blur. At the end of this 500+-kilometer, two-lane, under-construction, goats-in-the-road stress marathon, there was only one logical thing to be said, to our driver: Alex, how many beers do you need?

While he enjoyed his, I savored mine in what may be the best shower I have set foot in since 2015, fully equipped with a perfectly placed shower-beer shelf.

So, at least there was that.

Day 9

Port Shepstone > Durban: 122 kilometers

In comparison to the day before, the road to Durban felt ‘paved with gold.’ We sailed into the city without a hitch, and proceeded to hunker down in our modern, comfortable air bnb, perhaps still feeling a bit shell-shocked from the day before, and just generally in need of some rest after our long journey.

Day 10

Durban: 0 kilometers

After a large and satisfying breakfast, we happily said goodbye to our rental car, which was preceded by an intense hour searching out the downtown return location in what felt like an endless maze of one-way streets and ‘robots’-South African stoplights-and then spent the rest of the day taking in the sunny city, wandering around, enjoying some beer and a smoked salmon salad (say what?!?), and wrapping up our 10 day journey with a perfect sampling of Durban’s famous curries.

Well-fed, well-drank, well-traveled, and in good company, we prepared ourselves for the long road back to Moz.

Further logistics of driving Cape Town to Durban:

I  recommend: 

  • Picking up a FREE copy of the Coast to Coast backpackers guide book. You can find it at most hostels, and it is a good little guide to lodging and overview of activities in, mostly, SA, as well as some in Moz, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia.
  • Taking more than 9 days to drive Cape Town to Durban. While the distance is definitely do-able in this amount of time, and it provided some time for exploring, there were definitely places that I wish we could have lingered longer, especially after the 500 km days of driving. This area of SA has A TON to offer, so don’t rush if you don’t have to!
  • Traveling in low season (May-October) if you like to keep it chill. This has a double meaning. First, it was quite cold. Second, the hostels were very relaxed and quiet. The former was a slight struggle for us.The latter was lovely.

Getting Around:

As you know, we rented cars for this drive. Having our own car made this journey considerably easier than it would have been if we had been relying on public transportation, as we usually do when traveling. On this trip and past trips to South Africa, we have noticed that the country is NOT very well set-up for a backpacker or traveler who is getting around on public buses. Many hostels are in neighborhoods, off of the main roads, where mini-buses and the like just don’t go. Long(ish) distance taxis are not well within a backpacker’s budget, and while sometimes hostels seem to take pity on stranded public transpo backpackers and go retrieve them from the nearest main road, it is more likely that these car-less travelers will be walking….a lot. This being said, there exists another lovely option for travelers without private transpo: The Baz Bus. The Baz Bus is a hop-on-hop-off bus that will, indeed, take you to the out-of-the-way hostels that SA seems to favor.

Where we stayed:

  • Cape Town: Air Bnb
  • Gansbaai: White Shark Backpackers, 200 Rand per person/per night, private double rooms; kitchen;washing machine;TV; wifi; out of town in a neighborhood; groceries aprox. 10 km in town
  • Mossel Bay: Park House Lodge, 100 Rand pp/pn for dorms **low season/generous reception dude special; kitchen; braai area with free wood; free coffee and tea; wifi; centrally located in town; Spar grocery store aprox. 5km away
  • Crags/Plettenberg Bay: Wild Spirit Lodge, 120 pp/pn for camping; dorms; kitchen; free coffee and tea; breakfast menu; dinner upon request; fire pits; instruments; trails and treehouses; wifi; FARM STALL aprox. 2km away, but if you want that gov’t bread you better get it in Plettenberg Bay
  • Chintsa: Bucaneer’s, 120 pp/pn for camping; dorms; private rooms; kitchen; restaurant; bar; beach access; free canoe use; free wine and 4 o’clock activities in summer; pool; wifi near reception; curios shop; off of main road; Spar grocery store 16 km away
  • Port Shepstone: The Spot, 120 pp/pn for camping; dorms; private rooms; kitchen; bar; wifi; beach access; off of main road; Kwik Spar grocery store aprox. 5 km away
  • Durban: Air BnB

Photo credits go to Alex and Dempsey.

 

 

 

Sunday Snapshot: Chilly in Chintsa

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On an early morning walk on the beach in Chintsa, on the Wild Coast in South Africa, I faced into the rising sun, feeling a bit silly and a bit chilly in the wet, coastal winter air. Look for a post soon about our road trip from Cape Town to Durban.

Photo cred to my lovely husband, Alex Romanyshyn.

Health in the Peace Corps, and why I did 100 Days of Yoga

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It started in a hotel room in mid-January, I think. I sat crying on the bed, with three lovely ladies from our Peace Corps group listening and comforting me. It was a mental breakdown about a mental breakdown, a layering of struggles that I had never experienced before Peace Corps.

The breakdown that spurred this one had come about a month earlier, about halfway up Table Mountain in Cape Town. I had struggled up the devil switchbacks of that mountain. I slogged forward,a sweaty mess in the blazing summer sun. I felt, at one point, the wheezing breaths of the start of an asthma attack, something I hadn’t felt for more than ten years.

“I really don’t think I can make it to the top,” I told Alex, tears starting to flow. I rested for a long while, trying to catch my breath, halt my tears, and come to terms with the fact that I may not get up the mountain.

If I turned back, it would be the first mountain that I had ever retreated from. And, despite the suffocating heat and steep incline of the trail, it was still just a couple miles, barely above sea level.  For a Colorado gal who had lived above 8,000 feet and climbed much more formidable mountains before arriving on this side of the world, the possibility itself felt like defeat.

I did make it to the top of Table Mountain, and I felt a restrained triumph when I arrived: I had done the thing I thought I couldn’t, but I had struggled more than I thought I would.

So it is the metaphor for Peace Corps, I suppose.

It was that moment, that feeling, that brought about breakdown 2, the one in the hotel room. I hadn’t entered the room with the intention of airing my troubles or seeking comfort, but I was distraught deep down inside, and I couldn’t hold it in. Earlier that day I had seen one of the girls in the room working out, doing cardio stair-steppers in the deserted hotel stairway.

‘I can’t do that,’ I had thought. ‘I haven’t been able to work out for months.’

At that precise moment, I was feeling a nagging pain in my left lower abdomen, which had come and gone for the past three months or so, and which I had dubbed The Mystery Pain.

Three months with The Mystery Pain hadn’t been the start, or the worst, of my health struggles since coming to Moz. Before that I had spent about three months with ongoing cramps; before that I had suffered from insomnia for about two months. And, just to round things out, I had a few bouts of pretty severe food poisoning sprinkled in there too. It seemed that when one problem got sort of solved after multiple, multi-day trips to Maputo to see doctors, another would spring up.

So it was that I sat on the hotel bed in mid-January, not having made much attempt at exercise-except on-and-off yoga- since the previous April. For so many months, the health issues were so severe that I felt like I couldn’t exercise intensely. Not only was I exhausted and unmotivated, but I had a fear of making things worse, especially when it came to the pains and cramps I was having.

As it was, I hadn’t ever formed a good exercise routine in Moz to begin with. In the first few months, when I felt healthy and fit from our previous life as mountain dwellers, we tried a number of times to find a routine. We went running a few times during training, I tried an 8-week walker-to-runner program when we first got to site (which quickly melted away in the brutal summer sun), we did a part of a 6 week body weight calisthenics plan, and I did yoga on and off through it all.

Before the health issues ever started, there were two big struggles in finding an exercise routine.

One was that Alex and I had never had an exercise routine. Pre-Moz, we were very active, but it wasn’t a plan or program and it took close to zero motivation. We lived in the mountains and the mountains were our gym. We stayed healthy by doing the things we loved doing: biking, hiking, canoeing, snowboarding, and cross-country skiing, with lots of walking and yoga and occasional runs. The fact that it was this easy meant we hadn’t really had to think much about our fitness for about 4 years before Moz.

The other big challenge from the start was finding an exercise routine in a new life that felt completely void of routine. Our schedule in Moz is different every single day, and this took a lot of getting used to for me. There isn’t one specific time each day that can be set aside for working out, unless it’s 5a.m. Some days, I have to be out of the house by 7a.m. for work. Other days we get home from working at 8p.m. There’s a lot of free time in between, but it happens at different times each day. I had the idea that if I was going to do some boring workout plan- for the sake of staying in shape-and not really want to even be doing it, I had better make it a routine or I wouldn’t do it at all. Exercising wasn’t the only thing I tried to fit into a consistent block of time each day, and failed at doing so. It’s odd now to think back at myself trying to compartmentalize my time in this way; the inconsistent schedule that bothered me so much then hardly phases me now. In the end, I did find small ways to build a bit of routine into my days, to have tiny but vital moments of predictability and consistency. But exercise never became one of them.

After mental breakdown 2, the defeat and frustration just kind of brewed and brewed, until finally I told myself that, even with The Mystery Pain lingering around, I could at least start doing something easy, to commit to taking care of my mental state and maybe start regaining my physical health. Through all the ups and downs, yoga had been a go-to for me, a way to calm my thoughts and give gentle exercise to my body, and a way to have time to myself each day.

So, on March 1, I started a 30-day yoga challenge from YouTube (shout out to SarahBeth Yoga). It started so simple, at 10 or 15 minutes a day, and built up from there. I could tell that even the simplest things felt challenging. But when those simple things became simple again, I noticed. That was a positive about losing so much health, I told myself: getting to actively notice it building up again.

At the end of the 30 days, I felt so good and had gotten into the habit of finding time somewhere in the day each day for intentional movement and self care. So I kept going. I think it was at about day 45 that I decided to commit to 100. At first it felt a little extreme and unnecessary; I asked myself if I was being obsessive, expecting myself to exercise every single day. But I wasn’t pushing or forcing, or training for hours each day. I was spending 30 minutes each day doing a good thing for myself. I was listening, paying attention, and taking care of myself.

What finally came out during that long hotel room cry was kind of a raw and sad truth: I was having an identity crisis. An active, snowboardin’, mountain-climbin’, outdoorsy Colorado girl was my identity, and I felt like I had lost it. Never before had I felt limited by my physical fitness; if there was a mountain I wanted to climb, there was no doubt in my mind that I would stand at its peak.

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Now, there was doubt. “That’s who I was,” I cried. “It feels gone now, so who am I now?”

There are a lot of answers, of course, because for everything I’ve lost I’ve gained a whole lot more. But it’s not always so easy to remember this.

With my brief mentions of my 100 days of yoga on Facebook and here on the blog, I felt that all these other things could not be left unsaid.

My 100 days of yoga was not a challenge made for the sake of accomplishment. It was a saving grace after a year and half of mental and physical turmoil. I did not do it to achieve a beautiful pose and post daily photos, because my goal was not to impress, or even inspire, anyone but me. So, the 100 days were for me, but this story is for you.

It was important to me to share all this so you can know why my contented smile in the picture of tree pose I have shared feels like one of my largest triumphs. And it feels crucial to me to say that the crow pose I shared didn’t come until about day 80, and that those seconds spent in it were my strongest, physically, in nearly two years.

But maybe the most important thing that came from my 100 days of yoga, and the journey that led me there, was this thought that started springing up in the quiet, blissed-out moments at the the end of each practice, the things I started saying to myself: thank you for taking this time for you, for listening and paying attention, for playing, smiling, and challenging yourself.

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3 Smiles and A Struggle: 100 days of yoga, Visitors, The girls workshop, and What’s Next

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June was a joyful whirlwind of a month for us, as seems to be the theme of this second year of Peace Corps. I was lucky to go into this busy time feeling solid and well-grounded. The reason was that on June 8, the day before our lives got a little crazy, I completed 100 days of yoga. The 100 days of yoga was something that I had decided to challenge myself to after completing a 30 day yoga challenge in March and feeling really darn good by the end. The whole idea had come about as a way  to start getting back into shape and bring back at least some of the health that I felt like I lost during the first year of Peace Corps. The 100 days did just that, and more. My daily time spent doing yoga became my guaranteed Cece time, to take care of me. What a comfort this was! The challenge also brought about the realization that it is definitely possible to find time every day  for intentional movement and self-care. There were a number of days that I was certain I did not have time for yoga that day but, in the interest of not bungling my  whole challenge, had to find the time. In the end, I found it each and every day, even if it was just ten minutes spent in legs up the wall or a gentle stretch after getting over a stomach bug. I came out of the challenge feeling strong mentally and physically, and full of smiles for this and for having accomplished my goal.

 

A lot of smiles this month came from having visitors. Our first visitor was one of our best friends, Sarah. Sarah was in the Peace Corps in Tanzania from 2010 to 2012 and visiting her at her Peace Corps site was a big part of our Kenya/ Tanzania trip in 2012. In fact, this was the first time that I remember thinking, ‘We could do something like this. We could definitely do Peace Corps.’ From the moment we told her we were going to Peace Corps, she was set on visiting us and seeing our site. You may recall that we met Sarah and our friends Liesel and Jared and Victoria Falls for New Year’s. At the time, they were on a quick 3 week trip in this part of the world. Because of visa costs and time factors, they didn’t visit Mapinhane. However, soon after, Sarah got a job in Tanzania for June and July. She immediately began scheming to visit us here in Mapinhane first. So, we are beyond lucky to have received not one but two visits on the African continent from such a good pal. We spent our short week with Sarah soaking up the sun in Vilanculos, stand-up paddle-boarding, and enjoying perhaps more seafood in one sitting than we have in the last year combined. We then headed to Mapinhane, where Sarah tagged along to class with us- just as we had with her 5 years ago- hit it off with our beloved adult-learners at Adult English Club, sat in front of approximately 40 pairs of staring eyes while I read to primary school students at the library, labored through making Matapa, and got the first-ever full tour of the 7 Wonders of Mapinhane (detailed post coming soon).

We saw Sarah within the last 6 months of her service, when a PCV seems to be constantly oscillating between anxiety and impatience regarding the future, and nostalgia for and weariness toward their country of service. I remember her at that time, thick-skinned and mildly irritated half the time, and downright revelatory the other half. She too, visited us at this same point in our service.

In a week’s time, it felt like something in our friendship with Sarah had come full circle: we visited her Peace Corps site, where the seed of the idea of doing Peace Corps was planted, only to have her visit our Peace Corps site almost exactly 5 years later, and find us in, probably, a similar state to where she was herself at this point 5 years ago.

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We parted ways on opposite sides of the highway that runs through Mapinhane: Alex and Sarah heading north to Vilanculos, where she would catch her flight out, and me heading south the Tofo, with 4 female students from school.

This brings us to the next smile: this year’s REDES workshop. You may remember a bit about REDES, and about being a female from Mozambique, from my post after the workshop last year. REDES stands for “Raparigas em Desenvolvimento, Educação, e Saude,” or ‘Girls in Development, Education, and Health.’ The program is a curriculum of 15 meetings, designed for adolescent girls and covering subjects like good communication, healthy friendships, goals for the future, puberty, reproductive health, HIV, and much more. Last year, I never got a group up and running at school, but was continually nudged by my amazing counterpart, a 12th grader at school named Marizia,to keep trying.

So, this year, the two of us finally got a group of 8th grade girls together that meets twice a month. Each year, Peace Corps Moz puts on regional workshops for REDES, and other such youth groups, in which leaders bring a few of their group members to meet other groups from the region and do more intensive learning about the topics covered in regular meetings. The workshops help create a strong network between the participants; Marizia still talks with a lot of the participants she met last year. They are also meant to be a type of mini-camp, reminiscent in some ways of weekend Girl Scout getaways. There’s a lot of singing, dancing, game-playing, and pillow talk.

This year’s REDES workshop was one of my favorite things that I have done during my Peace Corps service so far. I was so impressed with the PCVs who organized the event; it was dynamic, fun, productive, and full of a constant, buzzing energy. The group facilitators got to work with girls in small groups, for an extended time to talk more in-depth about topics like HIV, puberty, menstruation, and life skills. This led to a lot of great discussion and participation between the girls. The girls amazed us with theatrical performances on the last day, centered around things like higher education and drug and alcohol use. We also played A LOT. The girls and facilitators seemed to always have a song or game in their back pockets, and we spent some time one evening doing Zumba as a big group.

After an awesome and exhausting 3 days, the groups cleared out pretty quick to travel home after breakfast on the last day. All was quiet, and the beach in front of our accommodation was deserted.

“Teacher, vamost mergulhar!” my girls proclaimed. ‘Teacher, let’s swim!’

Having arrived later than expected on the first day, the girls hadn’t had as much free time at the beach as I would have hoped. There was free time here and there during the days of the workshop, during which there would be a mass exodus of girls headed for the beckoning sea just 2 minutes away. Still, I could tell my girls wanted more, and I had promised them some uninterrupted, free time on the beach before our journey home.

There are moments here when I see joy that is so uninhibited, all I can do is watch and try to soak it up in hopes that it will settle into me. This kind of joy isn’t fleeting; once you’ve seen it, you have it with you. A brilliant early morning sun rendered the girls silhouettes as I watched them, at first, jumping waves, laughing, and running from the surge of foamy water. Claenencia, tiny in stature but bursting with a sassy sense of humor, had never seen the ocean before and her string of giggles as she clung to my side were like bubbling purs of a happy kitten. Artezia, always quiet but with a look of contemplation, knowledge and strength, ventured a bit further, holding the hand of Meyvis. And Meyvis.

“Meyvis!” I reveled at her. “O seu coração…está no mar!” ‘Your heart is in the ocean.’

Meyvis often looks serious, angry or irritated even. I see her this way in class and in our REDES meetings, and I saw her like this all weekend. I’ve learned, though, that she isn’t usually angry or irritated. I will have seen her looking this way, and then later overhear her telling her friends how happy she was about whatever it was that was happening when she was glaring, sullenly, from the corner. Although I know this, seeing her smile, seeing her joy come out as she played among the waves was enough to make me smile and laugh too.

In the waves, Meyvis couldn’t stop beaming and laughing. She watched the waves like they were alive, deciding her next move among them, experimenting with a little bit of swimming.

Before too long, I had waded out with the girls. Artezia and Meyvis wanted to do more than jump waves, they said. They wanted to learn to swim. Laying belly down on the sand, I demonstrated the motion of swimming. They practiced. “Consegui!” ‘I succeeded!’ Meyvis told me. Watching them splutter as the water splashed into their faces, I taught them how to hold their breath. They took turns practicing, floating, face down in the water, holding my hands while the water sloshed them around the shallows. ‘Consegui!’ Meyvis beamed after a few rounds. I showed her how to blow bubbles out her nose. She practiced, coming up with her eyes closed, spitting water as she told me “Consegui Teacher!”

“Vamos para lá!” she said next, pointing east to the breaking waves. ‘Let’s go THERE!’

A few times, while they played on the beach or splashed in the shallows, I swam out into the waves alone, diving under them. Now, Meyvis wanted to go.

I explained to her first the principle of diving under the waves. If you are under them, I told her, everything is calm and they can’t batter you. If you stay above the water, that’s when the waves batter you.

We swam out a bit, not as far as I had gone, holding hands the whole way. I told her I would say when to dive under. We watched the waves growing, rolling under the water, before cresting and breaking.

“Agora!” I shouted as one approached us. ‘Now!’

We dove under, and she came up laughing out loud. Again, again, again we dove under.

“Consegui!” She kept telling me.

More then two hours had passed by now, and I practically had to drag them out of the ocean. The busy and productive weekend, seeing their pure joy, and having the chance myself to be free and play left me full to the brim.

 

 

It was also during this REDES workshop weekend that we received our second group of visitors. In fact, this group, Alex’s mom, aunt, uncle, and aunt’s mom, had ended up at the same beach at which the REDES workshop was being held, and were there when I arrived.  They are in southern Africa for two months, completing a big loop that was spurred by coming to visit us in Moz. Because their travel is so long, it is also very flexible, and some switching of plans is what led them to Tofo beach at the same time that I was to be there. Between the activities of the workshop, I was catching up with them, trying to make up for the 20 or so months since last seeing them.

From the REDES workshop, we all traveled back to Mapinhane together, where our family spent a few days tagging along to school with us, meeting all our favorite people and, again, laboring for their Matapa.  Our time with them was rich and satisfying. Just simply having the time to spend together, chatting and catching up, around the dinner table was more special than anything else we could have done.

As we try to prepare for our last leg of Peace Corps service, it’s stuff like this that fills the tank, gives us the energy to finish strong. As if the time spent catching up and hanging out with people we love wasn’t enough, having visitors also meant getting to experience the strange kind of magic that happens when you see your Peace Corps service through new eyes, as a visitor sees it.

For the second week in a row, our service got to be new and fresh again, perhaps more so with Alex’s family than with Sarah, who could draw a lot of similarities to her own service. Suddenly,  the things that are normal to us now seemed a bit adventurous once again: chickens on the bus, people who think you’re just another tourist mulungu, the energy of a Mozambican vegetable market. The slow pace of life that we have adapted to felt fleeting and precious: nearly nothing runs by a clock and we nearly never have too little time to stop and chat with someone. Our uncertainty about progress in our work got put on pause to the compliments of someone seeing it from the outside: it’s an accomplishment to teach with nothing more than a blackboard and chalk, and do it in another language, it’s impressive to manage 45 8th graders at the same time, it’s incredible to see the confidence of our adult English learners as they read aloud. The friendships and sense of community that we are used to were marveled at: we pick Matapa leaves off our bread vendor’s trees, there’s a give and take of resources between people in the community , and some days we can’t get through a full sentence while we walk through town without the calling of one of our names interrupting. In just a few short days, all of these re-realizations were a reminder of what a special and unique time this is for us.

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Alex’s fam at Adult English Club.

While the presence of visitors has the ability to really ground us in the present and let us observe our service as they do, it also brings about lots of questions about life after Peace Corps, which seems to be barreling toward us at a somewhat frightening rate. This struggle is twofold. First, our visitors reminded us what life in the States is like. Yes, some days it feels like we’ve forgotten what it feels like to live in the States, as strange as that sounds. But it seems there is no better way to remember than spending time with Americans straight out of America. Over the course of our two weeks with visitors, we noticed a number of American tendencies that now seem to be less a part of our life than they once were: an attachment to schedules and plans; an unbridled optimism towards problems and the presentation of solutions in the form of “Why  don’t you just…..” statements; and a probably normal but high-for-us standard of hygiene and cleanliness of self, home, and possessions, as seen in Sarah’s diligent sweeping of ants off the outside of our house and Alex’s aunt’s suggestion-before seeing them and realizing they may never have been cleaned properly- that we clean our shared toilets with baking soda and vinegar. Needless to say, our response to both: “Not worth it….” All of these little things remind us of what’s next in our life, of all the things about American life that we will have to re-remember and re-adapt to .

The other side of the “What’s Next” struggle comes in the answer to the question, “What’s next?” The answer is this: We don’t know.

We do not begrudge our visitors for bringing to light the fact that it’s time to start thinking about the future. Not at all. With or without the presence of visitors, trying to answer this question, if only for ourselves, has certainly been a struggle lately. It’s not that we haven’t thought about it, it’s more that we just still don’t know. We know it’s time to think about it. We know that ‘having a plan’ is the thing that’s supposed to come next. We know that some of the PCVs in our group are already there and lots of others aren’t. Perhaps it’s in realizing how much less attached we have become to long-term plan-making. Perhaps it’s that life in Moz has drilled in to us a sense that most things are utterly unpredictable, and, subsequently, left us mildly resigned from any attempt at control. Or perhaps it’s that our whole sense of time here has slowed waaaaayyy down, meaning that our five remaining months still feel like a lot of time. But more than any of this, I think it’s that, for all of the ideas and dreams and schemes that we have thought about for life post-Moz, committing to anything feels like a weird betrayal, like Moz is already in the back of our minds as we jump ahead to the next plan. Every time we try to make a set plan for how the next year or so of our life will look, it feels horrible and forced and completely unnatural. Right now, we don’t want to be planning our next big chapter. We want to be in this chapter, because we know this time is going to fly and we know we will never have anything remotely like it again.

I know that all of these changes will reverse, to some degree, one day. I know that we will once again become plan-,makers, even if it’s to a lesser degree. I know that life one day may feel slightly more predictable, whether or not we will like that, I don’t know. I know that some day I will probably try to regain a sense of control on things, but maybe it will never be to the level that I tried before. I know that it won’t be long before our sense of time changes again and 5 months feels like nothing instead of an eternity. These are products of the culture you are surrounded by.  Although we didn’t know it 2 years ago, these changes were inevitable in coming here, and their reversal is inevitable in our return. And I know that we’ll find a balance, eventually, of enjoying our last months here and thinking about what’s to come.

But for now, ‘What’s Next’ is nothing more than the hours that will pass today: going for a run on my favorite path, hoping that bread comes in to the market from Vilanculos, and cooking up a hearty dinner.

We have 5 more months to enjoy a life that’s this simple, and that’s what’s next on the list of things to do.

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Sunday Snapshots: Time for Girls

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The 8th and 9th grade girls at school were buzzing with excitement on Thursday after I announced that they were all invited to a girls-only life skills workshop on Saturday. 

I am happy to have worked with an awesome student leader to  start a girls group this year that follows a program focused on health, education, and life skills development. There are 10 8th grade girls in the group, and we meet twice a month.

In order to include more girls, the 12th grade group leader and I planned a life skills workshop for the other girls at school. The 10 group members ran stations for the girls that came, covering the topics from our meetings so far:goals for the future, common gender roles and ‘thinking outside the box’ about gender roles, staying in school, strong communication, making good decisions, and strong friendships.

“Qualities of a good friend.”

Using every day scenarios to practice the 4 steps of strong communication.

Creating small theater pieces to show common gender roles of women and girls: cooking, cleaning, raising children, and helping elders.

Theater about common gender roles of boys and men: drinking, dancing, and playing.

Drawing successes from the past and goals for the future.

46 happy girls at the end of the workshop!

The Heart of A Mozambican

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I am struck by an image, a simple thing: 2 oranges in a bowl.

“Servido,” Laila says to me. ‘Help yourself.’

We have been sitting together for more than an hour on a straw mat on the floor of her newly rented room. We talk about her 10th grade studies, her little sister, her new boyfriend, her twin siblings. We talk about my 8th grade students, my nieces and nephews, my sisters.

There is a lot left unsaid.

“Gosta de beber vinho?” I ask, pointing to a half-empty bottle of wine in the corner. ‘Do you like to drink wine?’

Only some days, when my head is really full, she tells me. I think a lot, she says, calmly.

I feel squeamish, instinctually, about a 10th grader drinking. But Laila is 20, past the legal drinking age, and long ago an adult in every sense of the word.

She asks if I drink. Just once in a while, I tell her.

A neighbor stops by and peeks into the room.

Já dividiu o quarto. É bonito como assim,” she says with approval. ‘You already divided the room. It’s beautiful like this.’

Laila has strung a rope from post to post across the middle of the room and draped two kapulanas over it as a divider. On one side there is a twin matress on the floor, the bed neatly made and the blue mosquito net tucked in tight around the bottom. We sit on the other side, slightly wider. Here is the straw esteira mat that is a staple of the Mozambican household; the esteiras are often laid down outside in the shade and here people will relax together, nap in the heat of the day, shell peanuts, do homework, braid hair. Propped against one wall of Laila’s room are her school notebooks and the notebooks of her younger sister, who lives with her. Her hair pieces and cosmetics are lined up between the notebooks. In one corner are her three plastic kitchen shelves, some food, and a couple pots and dishes. Along the wall are her jugs for hauling water and her larger basin of water. I feel a breeze come through the caniço grass walls of the room, and feel the soft evening sun rays come through the door. People pass by and greet us. A pan clatters to the floor in the room next door and Laila says something in the local language to the neighbor. A colleague from her class comes in and sits down for a couple of minutes, talking about Physics homework.Laila’s collection of brightly-colored, freshly-washed plastic sandals dry outside the door; A number of neighbors have left her smiling since I arrived with comments about her beautiful shoes.

In the extended moments of silence that are the norm in any conversation here, I sneak glances at her face. What I see there feels familiar now: a thoughtful calm. If she is stressed, it doesn’t show. For the longest time, I mistook this absence of apparent stress in Mozambicans for the absence of stress. ‘Mozambicans are so resilient, they never seem to worry,’ I used to think. I am embarrassed to admit that now; all people worry. My gaze moves to her hands, a knife in one and a kakana plant seed in the other. They too are calm in their task of dissecting the seed. Seeing her there, so grounded and almost stoic, I begin to uncoil slowly. It is comfortable here, and my own mind is more settled than it has been in days. The feeling that visiting her felt like an obligation after a full week of work seems ridiculous now, and I feel guilty for it.

Laila is a former student and good friend of our first sitemate, Sarah, and I said I would continue to check in with her this year. She is a hard worker and a good student. She supports herself and her little sister with minimal help from family; This situation is not uncommon here. These students struggle, undoubtedly. In their communal culture they are supported by friends, neighbors, teachers, each other. Many of those that support them have been in this situation themselves.

The day before this visit, Laila had texted me asking me for help buying food. I do not come from a communal culture; requests such as this make me feel at once responsible,unsure, and guilty. I did not reply that day and by the time I arrived the next day, someone had brought her the vegetables for dinner, a coconut, some rice, and the two oranges that she then, without hesitation, insisted on sharing with me.

I apologized for not replying to her message. I couldn’t tell her it was because I wanted to help but just didn’t know what to do, that I didn’t feel I could just buy her food, that I feared giving to her meant that I would inevitably be asked to give to an unpredictable number of others in similar situations. I couldn’t say that it was because I have never in my life known people that run out of food, and that I don’t have an instinct for this situation. They all seem lame excuses now for not responding. But I couldn’t tell her that either.

All I could say was, “Desculpe.” Sorry.

In the peels of the two oranges that lay between us now, in her tidy and calm and comfortable room, after two hours of conversation, I see the things that I consider to be the heart of Mozambicans: an unending and unquestioned generosity, pride in what they have, and a priority on the people around them. These are the things that all at the same time make me feel welcomed and starkly foreign, guilty and grateful, naive and a smidge wiser. These are the things I ache for within myself, the things I aspire to in this life.

I rise to leave and Laila insists on accompanying me outside, three short steps to the front door. In the fading sunlight she gathers her shoes, and I promise to come over again soon.

Zambia: Victoria Falls and Friends

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The perfect way to end a trip began with the perfect way to start a day. We rose early in Livingstone, Zambia, despite our weariness from travel. Three out of our group of 5 had just finished travelling across the world to visit the other 2 of us, as we were just wrapping up a month of travel.

We were the first to arrive at Victoria Falls at 6:15 a.m. that morning. As we woke up slowly and quietly, the falls rushed over the cliffs as always, their rumble breaking the silence of the morning as we approached.

The falls are unimaginable; a place that absolutely can’t be captured. It’s that ever-present rumble of of 625 million liters of water per minute falling off the cliffs. It’s the subsequent mist, drifting up and clinging to you. It’s the fragmented rainbows caught in the thin strands of water. It’s the jagged, jutting gorge. It’s that cloud in the distance that isn’t a cloud coming down from the sky, but a cloud coming up from the river. It’s the wondering how early explorers crossed this massive work of nature.

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These early morning hours that we had all to ourselves at the falls switched seamlessly between staring transfixed out into the water in awe and letting our silly nature bubble over. For Sarah (far left in our group pic) and I, this trip saw the start of our 10th year of friendship. For Sarah, Liesel (gal in the middle!) and I this trip was a reunion of our time spent as hiking buddies when we worked in Yellowstone in 2010. For Jared and Liesel, it was their first trip out of the country together, and a celebration of their first year of marriage. For Alex and I, it was our 8th African country and a much-anticipated visit from friends at the end of our first year teaching abroad.

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As proven time and and time again in my life, there’s no better way to get to know a friend than being together somewhere beautiful in spirit and scenery, and experiencing new things together.

We saw it in our laughing moments at Victoria Falls.

We saw it in the chance meeting of a new friend, Bwalya, an exceptional young Zambian woman that we met in an urgent attempt to find a bathroom one afternoon and then passed hours together over the following days.

We saw it in a New Year’s sunset river cruise, dancing for hours in a Zambian bar/club and, after counting UP to ten for the “ball drop,” escaping the chaos of a middle-of-the-street firework show.

With souls refreshed from friends and Falls, we entered into 2017. Cheers to a great year ahead!

Planning a trip to Victoria Falls:

Zimbabwe vs. Zambia: We chose to stay on the Zambia side during our visit to Victoria Falls, mainly because we had heard the Zimbabwe side gets very busy and a bit crazy during New Year’s with an annual festival that happens in the town of Victoria Falls.  We wanted a more mellow experience and are really happy that we chose the Zambia side! After staying a few days in Zambia and visiting the Zimbabwe side for a day, here are our impressions. Livingstone felt more like a normal town, whereas Victoria Falls felt more like a town built for tourists. This meant a few things and you can decide if they would be positives or negatives for you: we saw a lot less foreigners on the Zam side, we experienced considerably less ‘touting’ from vendors/ crafts and souvenirs were not as easy find, Livingstone felt like a small African city-a bit of trash in the streets, chickens about, familiar markets selling more than crafts. Second impression: in Livingstone, things are more spread out; it is necessary to take a taxi to the falls from town and getting around to markets and such requires some walking. Thirdly, the Zambia side seemed much cheaper to us for lodging and food. Finally, the main falls of Victoria Falls are located on the Zim side, with the many smaller falls on the Zam side. Personally, I enjoyed viewing all of the smaller falls more, and had a hard time seeing the main falls because of the amount of mist. Both sides were beautiful and it was worth seeing the falls from both sides and seeing both towns. It is important to note that I think overall we felt more comfortable in Livingstone because it was quieter and felt familiar and comfortable to us after living in Mozambique.

Getting there: We arrived in Livingstone, Zambia by air from Johannesburg. After researching the time and cost of good charter buses, like the Intercape Bus, it seemed a better use of our time and money to fly. It is worth noting that the price of flying into Lusaka (in which case we would have bused to Livingstone) was not considerably cheaper than flying straight to Livingstone.

Visas: We were so delighted to find upon arrival that the Kaza UNI Visa had been reinstated. This visa costs $50 and gets you multiple entry into Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as day trips to Botswana. Otherwise, the Zambia single entry visa is $50 or a day trip entry for $20. The Zimbabwe single entry is $30, double entry is $45, and multiple entry is $55.

Lodging: We stayed at Fawlty Tours in Livingstone, Zambia. The five of us shared one dorm room (6 rooms per bed), but there are also private rooms and camping space available. This is a well-kept up hostel with a pool, beautiful garden, and clean shared kitchen for self-catering. They offer free transfers to the falls every day at 10 a.m., as well as free crepes every day at 3 p.m. They can also organize any and all tours or adventurous activities you would like to do at Victoria Falls. There are many, including bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, elephant back safari, ziplining, horeseback riding, micro-flight trips, helicopter tours, sunset river booze cruises, bicycle rentals…and more.

Money matters: The currency in Zambia is the Kwacha and the currency in Zimbabwe is the U.S. dollar. We saw plenty of ATM’s in both places and used our card to pay for lodging, food at nicer restaurants, and the park entry fee on the Zim side.

 

South Africa: My 10 Favorite Things about Cape Town

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1. A wine, cheese, and chocolate picnic on the luscious grass at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens is a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of such a variety of plants that you could easily spend 5 or 6 hours strolling the grounds. Some of their gardens include the Boomslang Tree Canopy Walkway, useful plants, fragrance garden, the arboretum, and a collection of Bonsai trees. Although more flowers are in bloom during winter-June and July- we still found plenty to look at during summertime. The gardens were beautiful and I believe nearly anyone would recommend you visit them on a trip to Cape Town. But, after living for more than a year in the land of sand, what I really appreciated at Kirstenbosch were the well-maintained lawns. And the BYOB (bottle…) norm. Glasses or no glasses. We spent almost two perfect hours in the grass, under a tree, eating and drinking with views of Table Mountain.

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Logistics: Kirstenbosch Gardens entry fee is 60 Rand per person. There are 2 cafes in the Gardens, and you can also bring in your own food and drinks. If you are using public transport, you can reach the gardens on the Golden Arrow public bus or on the Hop-on-Hop-Off bus tours.

2. Mexican food and margaritas at The Fat Cactus after a hike up Table Mountain.

There are many routes up Table Mountain and we had originally intended to hike up Skeleton Gorge, starting from Kirstenbosch Gardens. But because of the lack of public transportation to this area on Boxing Day, when we were going to hike, we ended up starting from the Table Mountain cable car station and hiking up Platteklip Gorge. I am fairly certain this hike was the third steepest I’ve ever done, followed by the Trough on Long’s Peak and hiking down into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Platteklip Gorge gains 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) in 3 kilometers (just under 2 miles) and was almost entirely exposed to the sun at the time of day we were hiking up. Although the hike was a stark reminder that I need to get back into mountain climbin’ shape, I was still happy we slogged to the top of Table Mountain instead of waiting hours in line to take the cable car up. Additionally, this hike made our dinner of fajitas and nachos and margaritas taste that much better.

Logistics: The Table Mountain cable car area can be reached on the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tours, or on the MyCiti buses. MyCiti was a great service that I wish we had known about earlier on in our trip. You must first visit their main station downtown-near the main transportation hub on Adderly Street- to load up your bus pass card with money, and then you just scan the card when you get on and get off. The system is well-organized and runs all over the city, including Hout Bay, Camp’s Bay, and Sea Point.  I would definitely recommend The Fat Cactus for a satisfying meal! They have three locations: Woodstock, Mowbray, and Gardens.

3. A rainy day visit to The Beerhouse, followed by a movie at the old Labia Theatre.

It may sound silly, but many of our goals for Cape Town were simple things originating from our past life as residents of the developed world: eating and drinking well, buying nice underwear, and seeing a movie. Of course, Cape Town has many more unique things to offer, but some days we just needed things any city could offer. On the one rainy day of our trip, we headed downtown on the public train, walked through Company Gardens to the Labia (yes….you read it right) Theatre to check their movie schedule.This theatre was originally an Italian Embassy Ballroom and was opened by Princess Labia in 1949 for staging live performances. We arrived there with no specific movie or schedule or mind; we had all day. Finding one that looked good, we set off to pass a couple hours before it started. We were close to Long Street- full of food and drinks and music and funky architecture- so we headed to the Beerhouse, where we found 99 bottles of beer on the wall and a dizzying menu, that described them all succinctly for us and organized the draught beers into categories like fruity and playful, dark and delicious, and the bitter way.

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Logistics: If you are staying in the suburbs of Cape Town, it is easy and cheap to reach the downtown area on the public trains. They all leave from the main terminal on Adderly Street. You can also take the MyCiti buses all around downtown (see link and info in the #1).

4. Eating, drinking, and being merry.

As noted above, one of our main goals in Cape Town was to eat and drink well. And Cape Town is an easy place to accomplish this goal. We found everything we’d been missing for the last 15 months, including berries, chai tea lattes, mexican food, sushi, brunch food in all forms, varied wines and beers, a Bloody Mary, margaritas, Ethiopian food, and this strange thing called a Cronut, pictured below. It is worth noting that it is permitted to bring your own bottle of wine to any restaurant in Cape Town, as long as you pay the small corking fee.

5. Strawberry sorbet on the lively beach at Camp’s Bay. 

We rented a car for one afternoon, a full day, and a morning during our trip and the first afternoon we drove up Signal Mountain for a picnic and then dropped down into Camp’s Bay. Here we strolled the bustling beach front and found delightful ice cream and sorbet. We found a nice spot near the water to enjoy our treat and do some people-watching, the dotting of blue umbrellas in the sand conjuring images of how I picture a California beach in the 1950’s. We stuck our toes in the frigid Atlantic and watched little kids run away from the chilly surf. We stopped to watch a touch-Rugby tournament and then wandered back the short length of beach to continue our drive to the V & A Waterfront.

Logistics: If you are on public transportation in Cape Town, Camp’s Bay can be reached on the MyCiti bus or on the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tours, both links found above. 

6. The Food Market at the V & A Waterfront.

After a small headache of finding parking at the V & A Waterfront, our journey into the depths of developed world commercialism continued with me bee-lining it through a frighteningly large mall, searching for the information desk that could, more or less, tell us the way out. We succeeded and popped out the other side of the mall into a bustling but slightly more charming area of outdoor storefronts. We wandered wide-eyed for a while, considered going for a spin on the Ferris Wheel, stopped to listen to some live music, and then stumbled across the Food Market. This market was by far our favorite part the Waterfront experience. It is a warehouse-type building full of booths and vendors selling all sorts of foods and drinks, from Biltong,to sushi, to fancy teas, pizzas, tandoori, and waffles. We settled on an order of gourmet samoosas and a strawberry vanilla bubble tea.

7. Honeybunch Chenin Blanc and Huguenot cheese from the Remhoogte Wine Estate. 

A wine tour of Cape Town is like seeing Table Mountain or driving to Cape Point. It’s just one of those things you have to do. We booked ours through Wine Flies and had a great time on this laid-back tour. They picked us up right at our doorstep and we spent the day visiting 5 wineries and vineyards. We sampled about 25 wines and had two pairings along the way: chocolate and cheese. My favorite wine was the Honeybunch Chenin Blanc paired with Huguenot cheese. I even bought a bottle to bring home to Mozambique!

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View from the Remhoogte Wine Estates.

8. The drive through St. James, Kalk Bay, Boulder Bay and Simonstown, ending at Cape Point.

On our full day with the rental car, we decided to spend the whole day on the scenic drive to Cape Point. We stopped along the way to watch the penguins at Boulder Bay and then continued on into the part of Table Mountain National Park where the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point are located. The views along this drive were spectacular, with cliffs dropping down to the ocean all along the winding route. Once inside the park, we stopped at the tidal pool area and found out that tidal pools in Cape Town are built up swimming pools on the ocean’s edge that fill up with water when the tides come in. We then snapped some pictures among the crowds at the Cape of Good Hope and stopped on our way out of that area to watch windsurfers on the Atlantic. From there we drove and parked at the Cape Point area and walked up to a lighthouse and down from there to Cape Point. Although the views from here were wonderful, I was a bit disappointed to find out that Cape Point is not actually the official meeting point of the Indian an Atlantic Oceans. The oceans do meet at Cape Point sometimes, but the true meeting point is Agulhas Point, a bit further south.

Logistics: The cost to get into this part of the park was 130 Rand per person. We did not see any public transportation of Hop-On-Hop-Off buses here, but there are plenty of tours available for this area if you don’t want to rent a car. We highly enjoyed it as a self-drive so that we could stop in all the funky little beach towns along the way. 

9. Lunch at The Brass Bell and a stroll through laid-back Kalk Bay.

On the way back from Cape Point we stopped in the funky little town of Kalk Bay for a delicious lunch at The Brass Bell, where we found more ‘tidal pools’ for patron’s use. With tummies full of fish and pork, we went for a stroll through town, where we found an actual bookstore  and bought a book of short stories by authors from all over Africa. Planning to take a loop back through Hout Bay, we stopped to fill gas only to have our credit card rejected, scrounge every last Rand from my purse, ask a stranger for some money, and return home along the same route, as we no longer had money for the toll road to Hout Bay.

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A little taste of adventure: all of our change lined up on the car seat as we scrounged around for gas money.

10. A Christmas picnic in the Rondebosch Commons.

This was Alex and my second Christmas away from home and our first – and probably only- Christmas just the two of us. After getting up early to Skype in for Christmas Eve in the U.S. we went back to bed for a couple hours, made crepes for breakfast (with three types of berries!) and then headed for the public train stop to go to the beach for the day. After waiting a considerable amount of time for a train that never came, we wandered around quiet Mowbray, trying to find somewhere nice outside to linger. We finally settled in Rondebosch Commons and laid out a capulana for a picnic under the pine trees.

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