23 January 2014

{The Best of 2013}

Ok, so I'm well aware that I sort of missed the boat on this one, but I figured that a little reminiscing would be the perfect way to get back into the blogging groove after more than two months of radio silence.  While I had never intended to take a long-term hiatus from blogging, I also never anticipated the sheer amount of blood, sweat, and tears that it would take to finish my dissertation.  Needless to say, I've had statistics coming out of my ears over the past several months.  And... the battle is finally over.  I submitted last week!  
Phew.  Now back to real life again...

Although the bulk of 2013 was dedicated to my studies, Jurgen and I were still able to squeeze in a fair amount of adventure.  Between an incredible trip to Greece in July and a road trip through Lesotho in September, there were plenty of moments worth remembering.  

On that note, here are eight highlights of 2013:

8. The Drakensberg.  In February of last year, I surprised Jurgen with a trip to the Drakensberg mountains in celebration of our five year anniversary.  We rented a cabin and spent a long weekend cozied up next to the fire, nibbling on cheese platters and sipping cabernet sauvignon.  It turned out to be the perfect low-key getaway and gave us a chance to unwind after the madness that was the first few weeks of post-grad.

7. Adventures with Elephants.  Every time I think of this afternoon I can't help but smile.  Setting aside a few hours to interact with six magnificent African elephants was like a dream come true.  It was wonderful getting to know each one individually and learning first hand how incredibly intelligent they really are.  The true definition of gentle giants, it's devastating to think that they're currently being pushed to the brink of extinction for something as arbitrary as their tusks.  Fact: most often humans are the world's worst enemy.

6. Soweto.  Although I had visited Soweto on numerous occasions prior to 2013, I had never before set aside a full day to take a tour of South Africa's largest township.  Coming face to face with dire poverty and yet discovering the impenetrable joy that is present in the Soweto community is life changing.  Despite empty tummies, tattered clothes, and shoeless feet, the people of Soweto truly celebrate the love and contentment they find in one another.  Every time I visit I leave a different person.

5. Lesotho. Many people aren't aware that South Africa contains two independent countries within it's borders: the Kingdoms of Swaziland and Lesotho.  In September, Jurgen and I road tripped with friends through the mountain nation of Lesotho "oohing" and "ahhing" at the most gorgeous views as we climbed higher and higher into the clouds.  It was as though we'd been transported back to a time before there was such a thing as paved roads, supermarkets, petrol stations, cold soft drinks, and atms.  Local nomads wandered the sheep speckled hills and modest, yet cozy, rondavels littered the countryside.  It was untouched Africa at its finest.

4. The Oyster BoxThe Oyster Box completely exceeded my expectations in every sense of the word.  Situated just opposite the renowned Umhlanga lighthouse in Durban, I fell head over heels in love with everything from its classic decor to its warm atmosphere to its exquisite food to its impeccable service.  Jurgen and I were actually depressed when the time came to head back to Jo'burg.  I know... first world problems.  But in all seriousness, The Oyster Box now easily ranks as my favorite hotel in the history of ever.

3. Namibia.  In January of last year, Jurgen and I spent one spectacular month road tripping through Namibia and I still haven't finished posting about all of the breathtaking goodness that the country contains.  We played with lions and leopards, experienced a magical sunrise in Sossusvlei, wandered through the eeriness that is Deadvlei, went fishing along the infamous Skeleton Coast, and experienced a safari in Etosha National Park.  During that month, life was exactly as it should be.

2. Greece.  Greece was so much more than I ever dreamed it could be.  I've mentioned before that the country was never even on my radar prior to visiting.  This specific trip just happened to coincide with a conference that Jurgen was attending and I thought I'd tag along.  However, Greece now easily ranks as one of my best travel experiences to date.  The pristine beaches, laid back lifestyle, wonderful food, and millions of tiny white churches won me over completely.  Do yourself a favor: go to Greece.

1. My Brother's Wedding.  Out of all of the goodness that 2013 brought with it, the best of the best had to be flying out to California for my brother's wedding.  Going into the year I wasn't sure whether the university would grant me permission to leave, so it was extra special being able to attend not only as a guest, but also as a bridesmaid.  When you add to this the fact that I absolutely love my sister-in-law and the fact that Jurgen was able to fly out with me... well, then you have every ingredient needed for one of the greatest weeks ever.

What were some of your 2013 highlights?