I had a fantastic time in South Africa, yet I suppose every adventure has to end.
Thanks for reading!
Crammed shoulder to shoulder with the lingering scent of old perfume and sweat floating around the 14 seat van that 20 people have shoved into, I make my way to work. I’ve already taken a 20 minute train ride south 8 stops to Wynburg, where I hop on the mini bus taxi. The bus jumps about, jostling us around the seats, but never enough to spring loose from the tight gasp of the packed rows. It doesn’t have to follow the rules of the road, swerving in and out of traffic and even running red lights sometimes. No one seems to care as long as the taxi gets there fast and well, in one piece. That’s what I hope most days too. As it powers down the road, dropping people off at different location named stops, the taxi’s talk to one another. Beep-Beep, How’s it going? Beep-Beep, Out of my way-make room. Beep-Beep, Need a Ride? Beep-Beep, Girl you’re looking good! The echoes of the city roads die out though as the mini bus makes its staggered way out to the Constantia Valley.
After most of the other taxi goers, mainly older Xhosa women who work as cleaning ladies, get off the taxi at Strawberry or Willow Lane, the taxi bumps along quickly to the end of the road where I exit. I’ve tried a variety of words for my stop. None really seem to work, yet I somehow get across to the driver that I want off. Even after ten weeks of taking the bus, Uitsig (a sign near where I want off) and Nova Constantia (the name of the road) only work on occasion. It might be my accent or soft voice that they don’t understand, but luckily there is always the fall back of yelling Thank You Driver! and then they will pull over.
Relieved that I have survived one more day on the taxi, even though I have to admit I feel the mini bus taxis safer than the train, I set off on my twenty-minute walk to work to finish my commute, arriving around nine.
For a long walk to work, mine can’t be the worst – a dirt sidewalk along a busy road in the country and then a right hand turn into sprawling vineyards that are awake with locust singing their endless chirping song to the sweet dew-drenched grapes.
Greeting me at the gate are two nice young guards men. With big smiles we exchange morning welcomes and “how’z its” as I continue on my way. I once learned their names, but I am only able to remember one – Bongo, like the drum. He is the tallest of the gate guards with the biggest, brightest smile I’ve ever seen and a slanted maroon Frenchman’s hat.
Minus my hellos to the guards, I have made my walk to work, my “me” time. Sometimes I listen to music on my Mp3 player and watch the clouds float on top of the Constantiaburg Hills to the smooth voice of Jack Johnson, other times I just listen to the birds, locust and cars and dream of seeing the baboons that the signs entering the warn of. I imagine the wild animals running up to me while I’m walking to work and stealing my lunch. I hear they aren’t afraid of people and that they frequently run around the wine estate and Cape Town, yet I’ve somehow still never crossed their path. Maybe they are invisible baboons.
Once I get to work though, the dreaming comes to an end as I take my seat facing a wall in front of a computer.
My first day at my internship is one I’ll always remember – even if I don’t remember half the names I learned that day. I was nervous as all get-up. It took me two and half hours to get into work and I only work for a little longer than it took me to get there. My supervisor showed me around the property, peeking our heads into a few empty French, cottage styled hotel garden rooms, wondering through the lush patios of the three world-renowned restaurants on the property, and meeting a dozen or so different people, who if they all didn’t show up at work, the estate would come to a standstill, as if frozen in time.
After an hour of quickly following my supervisor, who was wearing black sling back heels, around the hotel and work offices, my brown flats had already worn a blister into the back of my heel and filled with dirt, so I was slightly relieved when I was sat at my desk and given the task of “getting to know” Constantia Uitsig; a.k.a., Google it for the next two hours. This was probably the first and last time I was relieved to sit at my desk.
Throughout my ten weeks I came to realize I really don’t like sitting at a desk – but when it comes down to it, if I must, I can. But as I said, my first day was a short one. Around 2:30 in the afternoon, I was offered a ride to the train station from the receptionist. My co-workers didn’t think it was safe for me to take the mini-bus taxi and told me to get a car.
Even with the ride to the train, it still took me almost two and a half hours to get home, but it wasn’t the transportations failure this time. My co-worker dropped me off at a different train station then I had arrived at. Thinking only one train goes through, which I was also told by the station attendant when I bought my ticket, I boarded the train. Well – that was incorrect information. This train went out to the nuclear power plant and then back in to Cape Town city centre. So from an empty scary train into the bustling city I had to board another back out to Observatory, the suburb where I live. Once home, I almost agreed with my co-workers. Maybe I should get a car, but how would I ever drive on the left side of the road?
My internship was a unique one. While most students in Cape Town and South Africa are trying to save the world – the secret dream they have in their heads when they arrive, which is quickly muffled by the bureaucratic mess of most humanitarian NGOs in the area – I worked for the upper-class, white South African wine tourism industry in a country still plagued with the title of developing nation and haunted by its apartheid past. It is something that some days bothered me and other days I was thankful for. I didn’t have the heartache of having to listen to struggling women with HIV and AIDS like one student I knew who was interning as a social worker, but at times I did feel guilty. Why should I be able to have this great job in a high-class industry for free – while the average person on the street can’t find a job at all, or food for that matter?
Guilt. It is a stage that I think most students I know in Cape Town have gone through and one that most students are unprepared to feel. Guilt – for living the American lifestyle of excess. Guilt – for having the opportunity to work aboard. Guilt – for not giving to those on the street. It is a very difficult concept and one that I don’t think you can fully be ready for before it hits you dead on. But as the weeks passed it was something I soaked up and learned to live with because well, you have to. In Cape Town you are constantly bombarded with people asking you for things – food, money, water. And while the Good Samaritan inside of me wants to give and give and give, that is not a reality. I think I learned more from the social class division present at my internship than really from the work I was completing – it was also the biggest challenge.
In Cape Town there are three dominate languages and in relation to my work they were as follows: the cleaning ladies, the farm hands, and the business; or Xhosa, Afrikaans, and English. While language was never a challenge for me in my internship, the still present class/race divisions left over from the apartheid years was something that took a good getting used to. I was almost always addressed to in English, though I tried my hand at Xhosa whenever I could, which was mainly on the mini buses, but I never quite got the click sounds right – always a good laugh though.
Outside the culture of work in South Africa, the biggest benefit of my internship at Constantia Uitsig was the people. Each day I got to work with wonderful people, who each had their own story and own experiences to share. My supervisor even got engaged while I was interning! With my face towards my computer and my rear in a chair, there was still at least laughter in the office and a good deal of healthy work gossip. I was also given a good deal of freedom at work, something that I think lacks in many US offices. My project was mine and only mine for the most part. I was expected to figure it out on my own, which at times was difficult but in the end rewarding. When I needed help or guidance my co-workers were there but most days it was just me, Google, and my marketing proposal. The final is shaped product of my own hand, intellect, and creativity and something I will be able to proudly bring with me into the working world at home, even if some tires did fall on it.
At the end of my internship I don’t know if I’d say there is anything I wish I would have known before coming. But I would recommend to future students, go in blind yet with an open mind and open heart. Let the culture and people peel away your presumptions to build a true knowledge and understanding. Don’t let the American ways drag you down or haunt you but accept who you are and use your skills and talents to shape your overall experience. Ultimately, your internship, even if it is not what you expected or if you’re doing social work and you don’t end up saving the world, is what you make it. Even if only a small stamp is left behind by your work in another country, it’s a big stamp on your own life that will make a huge difference on who you will be.
Leaving the office at the end of my work day in the afternoon, when the summer sun rises over the vineyards and the sweat sticks to the back of your neck making the hair stand straight up as if it is trying to escape the heat, put in an old VHS of my commute to work. Add the smell of six or so farm workers, a hot pinch of plastic vinyl seats, and a handful of laughing Xhosa women trying to sell me for cows to the best bachelor on the bus and play the video backward. An hour or so later I will walk through the three gates of my dormitory style house in Obz.
My time in Cape Town went so quickly that is plays like a tape in my head. Weeks 3-8 sometimes seem like a blur, but when I really think about it, when I think about a specific day, things are as vivid in my mind as yesterday. I can still smell the smells – and let me tell you Africa has a wide assortment of interesting smells, some more pleasant than others – I can still see the women laughing and chatting as they walk down the street in brightly coloured outfits with big prints and the young boys running around without shoes. I can still feel the South African sun against my cheek, even though it burnt me time and time again. And I can still see the white and red grapes hanging preciously from their vines waiting for the harvest. And this is how it will be frozen in my head – as a forward and backward tape of experiences, friends, and senses until I see the sun set again over Table Mountain and Cape Town.
TIPS for future interns:
“Hello Darling!” Kelsey Smoker said in a bad mock English accent, “How is your tea?”
“Just decadent,” I replied about my vanilla infused loose rooibos tea, that I was proudly sipping with straight back and pinky up, before breaking into uncontrollable laughter.
If you like Tea, then this is the place to be. The high tea, which is served from 2:30-5:30 daily in the Hotel’s upscale lobby, terrace, and garden, offers 35 different types of loose tea leaves. Ranging from simple black or green tea to sweet herbal mixes of berries and vanilla or the Mount Nelson Signature Tea (black tea with rose petals and hits of orange, mint and chamomile), the teas are the main course of the event.
The tea is served in individual glass kettles, brewing with hot water and the seeping leaves. The server sets out a tea timer, an hour glass with sand, that lets you know when the tea is ready to drink and brings endless cream and sugar for the table.
Reservations are essential and small groups are seated in intimate settings of comfy, elegant parlor armchairs with a center coffee table – all perfect for some light tea chatter, or a silly show of our inability to keep a straight face while sipping tea with one finger hanging precariously in the air.
Yet while the tea and conversation may be the centerpiece of this event, to my sweet tooth, the delicious and irresistible finger food and chocolate desserts are the real treat!
A large banquet table centered between large bay windows is layered with a mixture of moose-cakes, sweet breads, tangy tarts of all sizes, cream puffs, salmon puffs, pork and cucumber finger sandwiches, mixed quiches, seasonal fruit and so much more.
After an all-you-can-eat buffet of treats and tea, and oh do they mean all-you-can-eat, for R165, it is basically impossible to leave unsatisfied, and if you are lucky you’ll still be able to walk to your car though it will most likely be in a happy daze of food/tea comatose.
Cutting out the back door of one vineyard and taking a short cut through the vines, Caroline and I walked the wineries of the Constantia Valley yesterday.
We visited Constantia Uitsig, sipping the lovely Constantia Red and Muscat d’Alexandre, then walked the long way to Klein Constantia through their magnificent gate and along the twisting road lined with beautiful purple flowers. At Klein Constantia we shared some dry humor with the tasting room attendant, trying the estate’s delicious five wines, including the Vin de Constance, a top rated dessert wine. Here we high-tailed it out the backdoor, where a farm hand gave us a ride in the back of his pickup truck to the edge of the property and showed us the dirt path to the tasting room of Buitenverwachting. Twelve tasting later, Caroline and I sprawled on the grass outside the estate’s tasting room, sharing stories and cheese and crackers. A great overall day of wine tasting.
Cape Town is known for its wild weather. People say that you can experience all four seasons in one day and I’d believe it. This week it has gone from 104 degrees Fahrenheit or 40 degrees Celsius to pouring down rain today and heavy thunder showers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such huge bolts of lightning! Should I even be touching anything electronic?…probably not. I wonder what tomorrow will bring? But all in all I suppose it must be better than the 42 inches of snow that was covering Washington D.C. a few weeks ago and the earthquake after earthquake that seems to be plaguing the whole earth the past month. It seems like it’s going to be one of those years.
Even with all the sun shine here, I am though looking forward to a little bit of Oregon’s good-old-rain before the hot summer sun again. Who would think you’d miss the winter when lying on the beach?
In the mornings and the afternoons when the train is half full or half empty is when you can find the blind-singing-train men. Shuffling back and fro down the long aisle way with a blank stare, the blind-singing-train men’s voices echo off the aluminium siding with the mercy and love of God, as they are led by their accompanist. While not always men, the blind-singing-train men make their living from the change of train riders. Five cents here, five cents there. Some have instruments – a guitar, portable piano, or even an accordion but the one thing that unites them is the darkness that surrounds them.
For an authentic African meal, with food from all over the continuent, combined with rhythmic singing and dancing and not to mention a touch of facepainting, no where in Cape Town beats the African Cafe. Located on Bree St. in the city centre, The African Cafe is a colorful restaurant, offering a 14 course sampling buffet that is not only traditional but tasty.
From Kenyan coconut chicken to pumpkin ginger patties from Swaziland, the food will titillate your taste buds and will not leave you unsatisfied.
To try so many different foods without waste, the buffet is present family style to the table with one small portion per person. This allows everyone to sample all the food on the menu and then after trying everything order more of their favorite. And to make it even better, it is all you can eat!
With a sinister smile of jagged, razor sharp teeth, the four meter long Great White Shark named Saw stared at me with its black beady eyes. Now I know how fish feel at the aquarium – trapped.
Just two hours southeast of Cape Town on the Indian Ocean, Mossel Bay and Dyer Island, better known as Shark Alley, is a Great White Shark sanctuary…and feeding ground. With nearly 40,000 fur seal lions calling Dyer Island home, the food is plentiful during the winter months, when sharks feed on the newly born pups, making Mossel Bay an ideal location for what is now referred to as eco-adventure tourism or Shark Cage Diving.
A five person cage is lowered three fourths of the way into the cool clear water. In full body wet suits complete with booties, hood, goggles, and weight belt to protect you from the cold and make you less buoyant, you sit in the water, bobbing back and forth with the waves, waiting for the powerful predators. When one is seen spotters yell to the divers to which side the shark is coming and they take a big breath of air and bob down into the cage. Drawing the sharks in with fish oil and a tuna head, the sharks swarm around the boat for viewers. Each pass the divers take another breath to get a glimpse at this once feared animal.
One to fifteen people die from shark attacks every year worldwide, including one man this year in Cape Town, but over 100 million sharks are brutally caught and slaughtered for their fins each year. Shark Cage Diving and eco-adventure tours when conducted properly are a thrill for the seeking tourist and money for their continued preservation.
Tours run daily in Gansbraii, leaving bright and early in the morning, from a handful of trained tour companies. Look for companies such as Marine Dynamics who not only over full shark cage diving but also an education introduction to the commander of the oceans by conducting on-board research to protect these prevailing animals and their pristine marine environment.
Someone today on the mini bus offered to marry me so his family could give my family cows (aka Xhosa money) so that my parents could get me a car, thus then I wouldn’t have to take the mini bus anymore. Very awkward. Especially when all the ladies continue to laugh and then tell me I would have to take care of his grandfather, bring him tea, and carry a water jug on my head….not too sure about that.
The golden orange sun kissed Cape Town goodnight as it sunk beneath the rolling dark waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Greeting the hikers strolling up Signal Hill and Lion’s Head, the almost full moon glistened its reflective light over the city, as the streets began to glow and a light warm summers breeze floated over the coastline.
Breathtakingly surrounded by the beauty of Cape Town and its magnificent coastal waters, I floated with the breeze atop the water’s buoyant crests in a two person Kaskasi kayak. Waving at the sea lions, who propped their fins out of the water in return around the boat, I soaked in the last rays of the summer sun before paddling in Saturday evening.
For someone with a distinct fear of fish, it even amazes me how much I love being out of the water. In a kayak, sitting so low in the water that the waves of the ocean seem like mountains that will rush over you, you feel so small but also so much a part of the world around you. Without the rutters and noisy engine of a yacht or tour boat, the whole trip is yours. The silent water, squawking birds, and splashing sea mammals are no longer frightened away, but welcoming. And while your arms may be a little more tired after the trip compared to your normal sunset cruise, its more than just well worth it.
Departing and returning in a small kayak group of 4 people, two kayaks, we launched with the company, Kaskasi Kayak, from Three Anchors Bay. A small alcove near Sea Point and in the shadow of Green Point Stadium, lined with rocks on either side, it offers a small relief for paddlers from the waves of the incoming ocean tides. Kelp forests hug the coast line, with the floating round bulges of the sea plants bobbing in and out of the water.
This Saturday evening, according to our guide, the waters were especially calm – a relief for Caroline, my kayak pattern, and I, for neither of us were very experienced kayakers. Yet unbenounced to us and our guide, the tides would change with darkness, and our experience level afterward would significantly increase. But all the same the paddle out and all the way to Camps Bay, following the rough rocky coast, was a nice easy zigzag paddle over the rolling ocean.
We headed south first, greeting a group of sea lions and cormorants, who were dive-bombing the waters for food. Herbie, Gwendolyn, and Melvin (the names we gave to our sea lion friends) splashed around our kayaks, leaping out of the water and waving their fins. Our very informative guide, Art Fincham, told us that there must be a large school of fish lingering off-shore to attract so many animals – a fact that chilled my skin slightly.
We turned back after about an hour and half once we were able to see the Twelve Apostles doused in royal reds and lush pinks from the quickly setting sun and close enough to Clifton Beach 4 to hear the music bouncing across the water from an evening music festival.
The return view was almost more magnificent than the one out as the sky above Cape Town city centre transformed from blue to light pink and purple and the lights from the high rise building lit up with the onset of the evening shadows. The seas were still quite calm as the sun finally slid beneath the ocean’s waves but with about thirty more minutes of paddling a strong head wind began to pick up. From so low in the water and in the near darkness, the gusts of wind turned the ocean currents into what looked like a storm drain. The water attacked our faces as we paddled as hard as we could against its ferocity. Art during the final approach into the cove, noticing our back and fourth wobble, attached himself to our boat for added guidance and control.
Battling against the outgoing waves with the last of the strength in our arms, we finally made it in. Salt crested our arms and faces and my fingers burned from gripping the paddle. Yet as Caroline and I crawled out of our kayak and back onto dry land, with the glow of thousand-ton cargo ships lining the horizon, we laughed with delight into the wind as we eyed our drenched clothes and wildly windblown hair and from roller coaster of adventure that is Cape Town’s weather and sea.