Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Favorite Watering Holes and Eateries

True to form, John leaves no stone unturned.  And this includes finding the best local places to hang out and relax.  We still have a few neighborhoods to explore, but we are already voting on some favorites. What do you think?

One of our first discoveries was Banana Jam, which is located just 7 train stops away. Banana Jam is known for its Caribbean food and atmosphere, and low-priced happy hour drinks.  It has a great outdoor patio and a perfectly relaxed vibe.  They serve several craft beers on tap, one of which is Rogue Dead Guy Ale, with which we are already well familiar since it comes from Oregon.  We have a favorite waiter who is finishing up his degree in Marine Biology at the University of Cape Town.

Monet’s impressionist painting of Sarah at Banana Jam

Late afternoon is the right time for Banana Jam

Another favorite is &Union.  &Union (short for Brewers & Union) is located in the City Bowl (downtown Cape Town).  It's in the back courtyard of St. Stephen's Church, and has long communal picnic tables so it is easy to get to know the other patrons.  They have live music on Wednesday and Friday evenings, usually jazz or reggae.  The food, beer and wine are all excellent.

The first time we were at &Union, we met Michael and Hennie, two likeable business associates from Jo'Burg and Bloemfontein.  We bought each other beers.  The second time, we met Tham and Howard, two ex-pats from Zimbabwe who immigrated to Cape Town 20 years ago.  They explained the complicated politics of their home country.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe is now a famous tyrant, but he did a lot of positive things for education and the economy when he first took power.  Tham, who has a slight resemblance to James Earl Jones and is an ob-gyn at the UCT hospital, got motivated to jump on stage with the reggae band to sing a Bob Marley song.

The crowd at &Union is pretty diverse

Hennie and Michael think everything about South Africa is “brilliant!”

Howard and Tham (James Earl Jones) from Zimbabwe

Got to have kaya, mon.  Tham sings a Bob Marley tune.

We recently discovered a third favorite spot for socializing.  It's called "I Love My Laundry." It's a small space with a corner patio in an eclectic urban neighborhood.  Inside, it has a laundry business in a semi-hidden raised back level and serves high quality, inexpensive wines at one solid table for twelve in front.  Fanciful earrings and other jewelry are available for sale in the middle of the table and on the walls.  It all blends together amazingly well.

Owners Clayton and Mico have a loyal clientele and seem to know everyone in the neighborhood, who drop in for both laundry and wine.  Clayton also gave us the inside scoop on the wineries in Stellenbosch, which we will visit next week.  It seems that most of the best wines are only exported, so you really have to know what to look for.

Loving the Day Care Children

The children who attend the day care center at our building site make our work so much more meaningful.  Upon our arrival each day, we are greeted by a chorus of cheerful "hellos" and our departures are punctuated by a similar chorus of "goodbyes."

Throughout our day, our breaks consist of impromptu soccer play, awesome hugs and playtime, in whatever form that takes.  In fact, Berny and her assistant Tonya let us interrupt any of the children's lessons to play with the kids.  But it is usually the children who are interrupting our work.  In a good way, of course.

Berny is smart, interesting and does a great job with the kids 

Berny’s husband Edward looks a little like Bill Cosby

All day long, we are entertained by Berny and the kids chanting the ABCs, days of the week, months or singing all of our favorite childhood songs.  The most common other interruption is "L-O-G-A-N," meaning that our little buddy Logan is headed for yet another timeout.  Logan is in timeout at least three times a day for various infractions such as playing in the water, not sitting when the other children are doing recitations, and playing with our tools, sand or cement.

The kids are in their colorful classroom 

Logan, aka Mr. Mischief, needs a timeout baby!

This little girl is loving the attention from Sarah

Matteo crashes the noon nap time party

Tiara and Tamia are twins, and are always dressed alike. It is easy to tell them apart because Tiara happens to have a crush on John.  Tiara can often be found hanging on his extended arms, or being tossed in the air by John.  Tamia is much more reserved, and you have to seek her out.

Sarah is quite fond of Berny's kids, who don't attend the day care but are around much of the day.  Ethan can often be found helping Sarah, and Sarah got a geek fix by working with Tammy on the library computer.  Ethan and Tammy are two of Berny and Edward's six children.

Tiara (bottom right) is always in the middle of the action 

Sarah’s help desk work is up close and personal

Ethan is playing in the middle of the photo

There are a couple of kids that are in all volunteer's photos. Gandhi is a favorite, partly because of his diminutive stature and nature.  Dustin Bieber is another - well I am sure you can figure out why.  Such a cute little boy!

Gandhi (center) is wearing his Monkey Man T-shirt

Dustin Bieber (2nd from right) is not a 19-year old Canadian

This youngster (usually smiling) looks a lot like Obama

John has recently been conducting impromptu exercise sessions involving jumping jacks, jumping up like a frog, touching toes, and signaling various American football infractions such as illegal procedure and holding.  Some of the kids are natural referees and umpires.  They are already way better than the NFL replacement refs.

John does bicep curls, using the kids as weights

Teaching the kids referee signals; they love first down!

For all you American football fans, keep your eyes peeled for next week's blog posts..Hint: It will involve the kids!  We have plans to teach them something important...well, you will see :-)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Getting To and From Work

Because we work in a settlement, we have special transportation to and from work.  It is not safe for us to walk around the settlements, so Projects Abroad provides a driver for us.  Every morning between 8 - 9 AM, Tyrin picks us up from our host family's home in a minivan and takes us to our site.

The best part about this form of transportation isn't just the free ride, but the conversation that takes place during the ride.  Most of the volunteers are between the ages of 19 - 22. We are always entertained with stories of late night bar hopping (the drinking age is 18), loud singing of the latest pop songs, and well-placed teasing of our housemate Matteo.

Tyrin doesn’t like getting photographed, but John caught him this time

Many of the volunteers on the bus are from Denmark, The Netherlands and France.  Most of them are female, with the exception of John and our housemates Matteo and Tom, who are friends from London.  The girls often roll their eyes at Matteo's boisterous banter, embellished stories, personal slang language and obsession with his own abs and tan.

Matteo did come up with one of the best quotes of the trip one morning.  The minivan was overloaded with 15 passengers, and Matteo commented that he was going to "make his body into a liquid to conform to the shape of the minivan."  You'll have to imagine the British accent to get the full effect.  It is surprising that he was able to be that clever after a heavy night of partying.  He is apparently well prepared for entering university next year.

Tyrin prepares for the morning onslaught of Matteo stories

Tyrin has a great belly laugh and a biting sense of humor, and joins in on the fun.  The day after Matteo got bitten by one of the neighbor's dogs and had to go to the hospital, Tyrin suggested that he drop Matteo off at the neighbor's house so that Matteo and the dog could "spend some quality time together."

Matteo and Tom in the van on the way home from work

Train Adventures

Cape Town is 17 train stops away from where we are living, and the trip varies each time. Some days, we have people selling food from car to car (probably illegally) or singers collecting donations.  Some of the singers are blind.  We are still challenged by trying to figure out which stop we have just passed and which stop is our destination.  We have memorized the stops, but if we're daydreaming or talking, we might not always be paying attention.  So far we haven't gotten on the wrong train, but we have come close several times.

Train platform at Newlands, near the cricket 

Passengers board the train at Retreat Station 

A first class train ticket costs 9 rand ($1) for the 45-minute ride north to central Cape Town, so it's a great deal.  For the same price, you can also take the train 45 minutes south to Simon's Town, a picturesque town where the South African Navy is based.  It's also right next to the penguin colony we mentioned in an earlier blog entry.  This train route hugs the coast for about half of the ride, passing several bucolic bays and various sandy and rocky beaches.

Picture from train window back towards Simon’s Town 

View of multiple bays, with Simon’s Town in the distance

Fishhoek beach, from the train window

Fishing boats at Kalk’s Bay or Fishhoek

Muizenberg (surfer’s) beach boardwalk, near train terminal

There is a large security force that monitors whether or not people are on the train illegally.  They wear colored fluorescent vests.  Most of the time, they check individual tickets.  Periodically, the train stops at a station for two minutes and about 15 security people storm the train and round up all of the scofflaws.

Yesterday, 20 security personnel ran frantically after the train to tell it to stop after it left the station. They boarded the train and took a few people off, but the size of the force seemed out of proportion to the magnitude of the offense.  The local lady sitting next to John commented, "These people have gone mad."

Update: Ask John about what he taught a young passenger on the train to Simon's Town...

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Traveling Around (Minibus and Taxi)

We have taken full advantage of the various public and private transportation options in Cape Town. Since we are staying with a family in a suburb of Cape Town, our primary way of getting to downtown Cape Town is by walking to the minibus stop down the street from our host family and then traveling by train to the city center.  The minibus costs 6 rand ($0.70) each, even for a trip much longer than ours.

A minibus near our stop on the main street in Retreat 

The minibuses are always an adventure.  There is usually a guy who mans the sliding door of the bus.  Let's call him "The Dude."  The Dude plays multiple roles on the minibus.  He whistles and yells at the pedestrians to encourage them to ride the minibus.  He often spies us as we are walking down the road and asks the driver to wait for us.  A few times we have entertained the entire minibus by running down the street, although there is no way they are going to pass up our fare by leaving us behind.

The Dude also directs you where to sit.  This is especially important when they pack up to 20 people into one minibus.  The Dude's other role is that of fare collector.  It is a clear faux pas to hand the money to the driver instead of the money collector.  The money is handed from passenger to passenger on the way to The Dude, and the change back from The Dude also makes its way through the passenger ranks.

A full minibus in Retreat, two blocks from our house

A couple of times we have stopped for gasoline on our short trip to the train station.  It appears that The Dude also decides how much the driver can invest in fuel at any given time.

For security reasons, we are only able to ride the minibus or take the train during daylight hours.  So after 6:30 PM we take private taxis.  We have met some really great taxi drivers.  Our favorite is Ray, who lives only a couple blocks away from our host family. We have met a number of taxi drivers from Zimbabwe, usually referred to as Zim.  While a lot more expensive than the train, taxis are a great way to get around.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Cape Peninsula Tour

OK, it's time to confess to being chronologically challenged bloggers at times.  We took a tour of the Cape Peninsula Tour on the first rainy Saturday after we arrived, but are just getting around to writing about it 10 days later.  The tour covered about 70 miles round trip, south of Cape Town.  The first part of the trip was on the Atlantic Ocean side.  In the afternoon, we drove back up the Indian Ocean side.

Cape Town is at the top of the map.  The Cape of Good Hope is at the bottom.

The first stop on the tour was in the Bo-Kaap area of Cape Town.  Bo-Kaap is a predominantly Muslim neighborhood, populated by the "coloured" Cape Malay people. Such color distinctions are still routinely used in conversation by locals of all races, twenty years after apartheid.  The Cape Malays are descendants of early slaves, who came from Indonesia, India, the West Indies and other parts of Africa.

Bo-Kaap neighborhood, looking towards Lion’s Head

Next we stopped by Camp's Bay, one of the nicest and wealthiest beach areas in Cape Town.  Leonardo DiCaprio, among others, has a large house here.  He must have been smitten while filming Blood Diamond.  We would like to go back to Camp's Bay on a sunny day, and have a sundowner on a patio or balcony at one of the many nice restaurants and bars in the area.

View of Camp’s Bay below the Twelve Apostles

Next up was Hout's Bay, an affluent suburb that is also home to a large commercial fishing fleet.  Then we stopped at Chapman's Peak, named after an early explorer to these parts.

Hout’s Bay.  The panorama extends for many degrees.

Fynbos and crystal blue water below Chapman’s Peak

After stopping briefly at an ostrich farm (a highlight for Sarah - of course), we moved on to the Cape Point Lighthouse and the Cape of Good Hope.  The Cape of Good Hope, which was originally more aptly named the Cape of Storms, is the most southwesterly point in Africa.  Other points are further south or west, but this was definitely an area that sailors wanted to avoid.  There are several hundred shipwrecks nearby.

Insert your own joke about a politician sticking his head in the sand.

View from the short trail to the Cape Point Lighthouse

View from Cape Point Lighthouse to Cape of Good Hope

Sarah with giant kelp, near cheesy sign for Cape of Good Hope

On the way back to Cape Town, we stopped at Boulder's Beach near Simon's Town. There is a colony of rehabbing Antarctic penguins here. They are pretty mellow dudes. The pygmy penguins at Philip Island in Australia seemed more fun.  But maybe these penguins were also bummed out by the rainy weather.  We might go back and swim and play with them on a sunnier day.  It's allowed.  Cool, huh?

Danny DeVito and Burgess Meredith have nothing on this Penguin

The penguins have a conference at the mound
Our favorite scruffy penguin.  We always like the underdogs.

Our final stop was at a winery in Constantia, which is a 15-minute drive from our host family's house.  Constantia was the original wine-making district in this region.  A Dutch governor made the first wines in the late 1600's.  The first wine he made pretty much sucked, but others did much better later.  We had some really good white wines at a free tasting, plus a few mediocre ones.  The room was elegant but welcoming.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Hiking Table Mountain

Table Mountain is a 1087m (~3600 ft) mountain right behind the city of Cape Town.  It is the oldest mountain in the world.  Its top is flat because it was formed during an ice age, when the growing mountain was constrained by the heavy layer of ice on top of it.  It's hard to go anywhere in the city without noticing the beauty and grandeur of the mountain.

Rainbow over Table Mountain at sunrise, from our backyard

You can take a cable car to the top of Table Mountain, but that would be boring.  There are also several well-maintained hiking paths to the top.  We took the Platteklip Gorge path, which has an elevation gain of 760 meters (~2500 ft) in just 3 km (< 2 miles).  This works out to a 25% grade, which is pretty steep.  The weather was perfectly sunny, with the temperature in the upper 80's (mid-90's if you listen to the other hikers).

View from lower section of Platteklip Gorge trail

John on the middle section of the trail

Sarah is on a mission to get to the top

The birds are not shy on this trail, letting us pass by

There was some excitement on the trail when we got close to the top.  A woman suffering from heat exhaustion had to be evacuated from the mountain by helicopter, after being helped by other hikers and a park ranger.  After that, we donated water several times to hikers who seemed fatigued or short of liquids.

Helicopter arriving on the scene to help an exhausted hiker

Rescue team member lowers wire cable from helicopter

At the top of the mountain, there is a decent restaurant with an outdoor patio.  Sarah had an ostrich sub, and I had the chicken roti (Indian food).  We stocked up on water for the trip down, and felt superior to the unmotivated cable car people.  Before and after lunch, we wandered around the flat top section of the mountain.  The 360-degree views were gorgeous.  We also got to see some of the native shrubbery, which is called fynbos ("fine bush").  Fynbos includes thousands of plant species, most of which only exist in this area of South Africa.

Sarah enjoying the fruits of her efforts

John proves that the water is bluer than his shirt

Lion’s Head, Signal Mountain, Robben Island and city views

View of another town on opposite side of Table Mountain

View of Cape Town from the top
The table part of Table Mountain, with fynbos