30 January 2012

New Year, New Adventures

This year, one of my resolutions was to get outdoors more often and dedicate more time towards seeking out spontaneous little adventures.  So far, I think Jurg and I have done a pretty good job with it, and we've really enjoyed looking at weekends as an opportunity to explore all that Jo'burg {and its surrounds} have to offer.

This weekend one of Jurgen's work colleagues invited us to go hiking in Muldersdrift near Glenburn Lodge.  He promised lots of wildlife, stunning views, and a decent workout so we jumped at the chance to tag along.        

We woke up early {around 6am} and were ready to begin our hike by around 7:00.  Luckily, there was a nice cloud cover overhead which made the weather perfect for hiking.  It ended up being quite the workout, but the view from the top was absolutely incredible and made all our hard work completely worth while.  And, we had a baboon encounter!  Once we got to the top of the mountain we could hear the alpha baboon making warning noises to let us know he was close and then later we actually spotted him and his clan further down the mountain.  We also spotted a group of adorable warthogs, but they ran away before I could snap a picture!  

On top of all the wildlife, there were tons of beautiful wild flowers, and we even came across the remnants of an old outpost from the Anglo-Boer War.  
This picture is my favorite of the day :)
Can you spot the baboon?  He's definitely spotted me!  
{Apologies for the blurriness, I couldn't get my camera to focus correctly}
Remnants of an outpost from the Anglo-Boer War
Protea, South Africa's national flower

It's amazing to think that all of this has been sitting on our doorstep for the past two years, and we're only seeing it now!  I can't wait to go back soon and explore more of the trails in the area.

27 January 2012

A Celebration by the Sea

While in Yzerfontein over Christmas, we celebrated Jurgen's Mom's birthday.  She turned 50 {although I don't thinking she looks a day over 40!}, and Jurgen and I are so thrilled that we were able to make the trip out and be a part of her special day.  It just wouldn't have been right if we would have missed it.

To celebrate we drove to the adorable coastal fishing village of Paternoster {one of my very favorite places: see here} and had lunch at Gaaitjie, an intimate and cozy little restaurant situated right on the beach.  Its name means "small hole" in Afrikaans, which to me seemed perfectly fitting!

 The weather and location were absolutely stunning and we thoroughly enjoyed wasting the afternoon away sipping champagne, taking in the marvelous views, and eating the most delicious food you can imagine {I enjoyed a delicious seafood curry}.  All in all it was a exceptional day, made even better by the fact that we were celebrating the birth of such an amazing woman, mother, and friend.   

If you ever find yourself in Paternoster, I highly recommend squeezing in a meal at Gaaitjie.  The atmosphere is relaxed and personal and the food is unique, but tasteful.  Letitia {the restaurant manager who grew up in Gaaitjie before it was restaurant} is most often on duty and around the premises.  Be sure to pull her aside and ask her to tell you her life story, it is simply amazing.  

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Gaaitjie is located off Sampson Street in Paternoster and is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Thursday.  Just be sure to make reservations in advance as they tend to fill up quickly!  For more information about this adorable family restaurant see here.

25 January 2012

4 Years, 10 Favorites

As promised, here are my ten favorite memories from the day that I landed in South Africa four years ago up until today.  I had so much fun going through all of my old photos again, and had such a difficult time choosing only ten things to post about!  This country has given me a lifetime full of adventures and wonderful experiences that I'll never ever forget.

10. 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup

In June 2010, South Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup and we were able to get tickets to two games: USA vs Slovenia and the quarter final between Ghana and Uruguay.  It was such a nice time to be in South Africa since the country came alive with festivities like you wouldn't believe and everyone pulled together in support of the national team.  The vibe at the games was absolutely electric and we enjoyed going all out in showing our support for the USA (of course) at the first game and Ghana at the second game.

9. Overland Tour Through Africa

At the end of my first study abroad semester in 2008, my friend Amber flew out from the States to join me on a month long Overland Tour through Africa.  We started in Johannesburg and finished in Zanzibar with lots of stops along the way in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania.  It was a great way to get to cover a lot of distance for a very reasonable cost, although it definitely wasn't all sunshine and daisies either.  It was a month full of truck break-downs {see below}, setting up and taking downs tents, cold showers, and lots of bumpy pot holes, but we really enjoyed it for what it was worth.  And the stars, oh my word, I will never forget the view of the stars from that trip.  

8. Lots of Road Trips with Jurgen

Jurg and I have a thing for road trips and for exploring new places.  Even before we started dating, he used to show up at my dorm room almost every weekend with some spontaneous trip up his sleeve, and the roommates and I would always pile into his Jetta wondering where he was taking us or what adventure he would have up his sleeve on that specific occasion.  It was a wonderful way for us to get to know the country, although looking back now I think he may have also had some ulterior motives ;). 

Once we started dating our random road trips didn't stop and we still jump at any opportunity to get away for a weekend to explore a new city or part of the country.  Some of our more recent road trips include: ClarensDurbanKruger, and Yzerfontein.  

7. Bungee Jumping at Bloukrans

One of the craziest {but also most awesome} things I've ever done is bungee jump off Bloukrans Bridge, which rings in as the highest commercial bungee jump in the world.  It stands at a whopping 216 meters (709 feet) and I can honestly say that it really does feel like you're falling that far!  And while it truly is utterly terrifying, it was one of the coolest things I've ever done in my life and I'd recommend it to anyone planning a visit to South Africa.  The guys on the platform are great and they create an incredible atmosphere by blasting techno music.  As you can see in the photo below, I was more than thrilled when I made it back to the top :) 

6. Our Jo'burg to Cape Town Road Trip with Chris and Cellie

In December 2010, our friends Chris and Cellie flew out from the United States for a visit and we road tripped it from Jo'burg to Cape Town stopping in the most incredible little towns all along the way.  We had such a fun time playing tour guides, but also really loved getting to see a lot of new places ourselves as well as getting to return to some of our favorite little spots for the second or third time around.  Chris and Cellie were absolutely the greatest people to travel with and we still talk about how much fun we had on that trip on an almost daily basis.

5. Getting to Play with Lions, Cheetahs, and Ostriches

In South Africa, it's not uncommon to overhear a co-worker or classmate chatting about weekend plans to go and visit the Rhino and Lion Reserve to play with the baby white lion cubs.  The opportunities to play and interact with lions, cheetahs, elephants, and even more unusual animals such as ostriches, are endless.  As an added perk, Jurgen's family has a farm in Namibia where they run a very small scale animal conservation type of thing and they have cheetahs, lions, and even a leopard.  Whenever we visit I'm in complete animal heaven!

4. AIFS Study Abroad Program

For my first semester abroad in South Africa, I went through the AIFS Program since it was well affiliated with my home university, offered all of the classes I needed, and provided a lot of trips and activities as part of the overall cost.  The program definitely lived up to its expectations and was a great way to sort of ease into living overseas.  It also meant that I was part of a group of about 60 other Americans which made it really easy to meet people, and resulted in many life long friendships and an endless supply of travel buddies.

3. Community Service and Volunteer Opportunities

There are endless opportunities to get involved with volunteer work and community service in South Africa and being able to take part in these opportunities has definitely enriched my time in the country and my life in general.  During my first semester here I was able to run an after-school programme for HIV/AIDS affected and infected children and more recently I was able to accompany MartinaKaren, and Heather to Kliptown as part of the Help Portrait initiative.  I'm hoping to get a lot more involved in volunteer activities throughout the course of the year.

 Photo Credit: Martina
2. Zimbabwe

As part of our Overland Trip {see number 9} we were supposed to stop in Zimbabwe, but for various reasons the tour group ended up deciding against it at the last minute.  They did, however, offer to drop anyone who still wanted to enter the country off at the border where we would be able to walk over and catch a taxi on the other side.  Seeing that Zimbabwe was the country we were most excited about, and that Jurgen was scheduled to fly in and meet us there for his birthday the following day, Amber, myself, and two other Canadians opted to cross on our own and meet up with the tour again in Zambia in a few days time.  It ended up being the best decision ever, and we had a ball of a time.  Although there was a curfew due to the elections, during the days we enjoyed visiting Victoria Falls {one of the natural world wonders}, bungee jumping off the falls bridge, going on river cruises and generally having a grand old time.  It truly was one of the best travel experiences I've ever had, and Jurgen and I have been talking about when we will be able to go back for another visit ever since. 

1. Jurgen

Sappy, I know.  But, he did kind of sort of change my life and chances are I wouldn't still be in Africa if it weren't for him.  He's my very best friend and I love him so much :)

The past four years have been incredible and I can't wait to see what the next four years have in store for us!

Also, today I'm guest posting over on Megan's lovely blog about my daily routine in Jozi and a bunch of other fun and random stuff - check it out here