30 December 2009

Reaching Out in Ancón (part 1)

I bought my ticket for Peru in the beginning of December: not exactly round trip in the narrow sense but maybe in the broad sense of US to South America to US. Arriving around the same time as my friend Matt, he agreed to wait for me in the airport and invited me to stay at his parents’ house for the night. In theory this would help in the timeline of my acquiring a visa to later go to Brazil. If only we had woken up earlier than ten the next day! I got to the consulate about one minute past noon. Of course no one could take my documents since it was lunch time and they only receive visa request from 9:30 to 12:00. Oh well. Went back to Matt’s parents’ house for my first Peruvian meal: pallares y arroz.

That evening I met Hector at the airport in Lima, after some time searching for each other, and headed off toward Ancón/Santa Rosa, to the community of San Francisco de Asís. Thus began my stay in Peru.

Long days of hard work are punctuated with interactions among rowers & non-rowers, Peruvians & estadounidenses, young & less young. Sometimes there is a successful communication but, more often than not, there seems to be a bit of haze somewhere in the exchange. The people of this community have been incredible. Giving, gracious, welcoming, warm, eager to help, deeply grateful to have us here: these are all ways one could characterize the many wonderful characters of SFA that are working alongside us to create something special for the future of their community.

For the weeks I'm working at the Lake Union Crew Outreach Foundation project in San Francisco de Asís (Ancón) I will probably just pass along content from Rome Ventura, the director of Lake Union Crew and head of the construction project here in Perú:

Hello Everyone,

It's Sunday here and the Week 1 team is halfway through their time here already!

I know they are all happy to have missed the process of unloading, passing up the hill and stacking the 4,000 concrete blocks on Monday and Tuesday before they arrived! At 24+ pounds a piece it was quite a process and we are all glad to have it done.

Our 7 friends from Lesotho arrived on Thursday evening at 10 pm and frankly looked a bit shell shocked at the airport. They had trouble of some kind at each stop. At the border between Lesotho and South Africa, they were told that it isn't legal to have more than 4 people in a van without a permit....this meant delay, conversation and a bit of cash in order to proceed. (Since they cross that boarder often, this was new, surprising, and probably not even a new law....but hey, whatever it takes....)

When they finally got to the airport in Joburg 5 hours later, they were told their flight was full. Catherine and Emmanuel pressed on and they managed to get on the plane. From there they had a transfer ... which went better for them. Only their seats were all over the place, but at least they were on their way.

Once Hector and I arrived back at the site with them, they were very happily greeted by our volunteers and several of the locals who stayed up to be the first ones to meet them. Off to crash they went, with an 8 hour time difference, our wake up at 5:15 am was no big deal ;-)

Project wise, lots has gotten accomplished with this week's team.
  • We have a painting team led by Keith who is plowing through getting the whole steel building's primer touched up and re-coated as necessary. They've already begun the final coating process at the west end.
  • Steve has been leading a small army of people with shovels and wheelbarrows, digging the footing trench for the second terrace.
  • Conal has been leading the framing team who has been building the window and door buck-outs and building and setting the footing forms.
  • Emily and Lisa have been cutting, bending and tying rebar for the concrete.
Yesterday, everyone was drawn into action because we decided to see if we could pour the whole 2nd terrace footing in the half day that we work on Saturdays. We got up an hour earlier and hit it!
  • Steve and Conal set forms,
  • Lexi ran the sawyer station,
  • Em and Lisa followed with rebar,
  • Wayne ran the mixer,
  • Colette ran a troupe of local moms who were all over getting the buckets at the mixer station filled with gravel, rough sand, fine sand and cement. (She had them doing stretches while the mixer was spinning!)
  • Then came the 'boogie' brigade of wheelbarrows to the bottom of the hill!
  • The Lesotho team had experience with this! They would literally chase their wheelbarrow full of concrete down the sandy hill, braking as needed by dragging the legs.
  • Not everyone made the turn at the bottom ;-)
  • Fuchs had to show off by running back up the hill with his empty wheelbarrow!
  • David, who speaks Spanish, organized the group of people who pushed the empty wheelbarrows back up the hill, so the person who ran it down could get a rest.
  • Lots of cheering, lots of tired people, 7 hours later....60% of the footing trench was full.
We'll finish it on Monday.

After the pour, people showered and Ericka organized a van tour of Lima, the catacombs and a few other stops for an evening adventure. Naps on the way home ....


Hello Everyone,

It seems like forever since I've been able to write an update.

The holidays have passed and we are in full court press mode as we move toward the finishing weeks of this project.

pigTo back up a bit, we had an awesome whole pig roasted over a pit that Conal set up on Christmas day. It cooked all day long and you should have seen the carving effort! Not exactly your holiday turkey! It was great though. Really tender, done all the way through and Carol rustled up all the fixings to go with it. We had just a few

That morning our team of USA volunteers poured the first half of the concrete wall of Terrace #2 without any Peruvian volunteers since it was Christmas day, so we were totally beat and ready for the big feast that evening. Really a great atmosphere here. We came to work and that's what we did. Two of the three tines on the mixer even broke off during the pour, so we finished the job with a single paddle in the mixer. Fortunately it held up until we could get them welded back on the next day.

Week #2 Volunteers rocked on the big task of the week, which was to get the steel structure of the building fully painted....and they got 'er done! It really looks cool all bright red on the gray hillside.

As Week 2 transitioned into Week 3 Volunteers, the roofing team got new members, and we think the roof and the insulation will be done by the time this team leaves, next Wednesday. The big concrete floor pour is scheduled for Friday the 8th, so we'd like to be able to pour it all under the shade of the new roof and slow down the curing under full sun.

bldgblocksThe masonry team just finished the 5th course of blocks all around the building, which was the sill level of the windows and the first horizontal bond beam. That means lots of detailed cuts and lots of concrete that had to be mixed, but we got it done and felt very satisfied. Now it gets tricky....less blocks due to the window openings, but everything is now off ladders and scaffolding to hoist the blocks up over the vertical rebar that sticks up.

Oh yeah, and the porti-potti company's pumper truck broke down, so we didn't get a 'pick up' for 3 extra days. ....
There are official pictures from this project in the LUCOF Picasa album.

limasquarecowMy take on the Old Lima tour Ericka and Hector took us on in Week 1 is that we sped through a few sites and ran through the streets with barely enough time to take pictures or really take in anything. This is no one's fault. We couldn't leave Ancón until the pour was as complete as it was going to get that day, and we had to get to the catacombs before closing time. As there wasn't much time before sunset, we chased each other around a few blocks of Old Lima with Ericka pointing left and right. We headed to Miraflores where we really only had time and energy to eat dinner at Norky's (scrumptious rotisserie chicken - pollo a la brasa). People were mostly passed out on the way back to San Francisco de Asís.

machadoThe work in SFA has been very rewarding. Skill transfer among American and Peruvian volunteers has been pretty sweet. From my perspective, one of the best experiences, although lacking a bit since I was doing triple duty that day, was learning how to make Peruvian tamales from Miguel Machado. I've got a recipe and a date with some fellow volunteers to have some when I'm back in Seattle.


Another highlight was a bbq at the home of the local chef Sr. Fluker. He made anticuchos de corazón, chorizo, and bife - of course served with choclo peruano (Peruvian corn) and a Peru Libre.

Translating between English and Spanish has reinforced my "rusty" Spanish. Of course, locals are typically impressed with my agrammatical language skills. Fortunately or hopefully, I'm not transferring them to the Peruvians! One new ability I've picked up is block setting. I'm no mason, mind you, but I now know more than I did about setting courses of concrete blocks. All in all, the LUCOF project is turning out to be a mutually beneficial and rewarding undertaking. The people of SFA are so grateful for our presence and are working incredibly hard with us to build their community center. I cannot wait for it to be completed!

10 November 2009

Welcome to Jordan!

After paying about $25 (94 NIS) to leave Israel, I walked across the border to the Jordanian passport control station. The gentleman running my bags through the x-ray machine asked, "Where are you from?" I said, "America" (as I've learned it's a more widely understood response where I've been than the otherwise preferred "The States"). This Jordanian border patrol officer gave me the most genuine smile and warmly said, "Welcome to Jordan!" Now, I've since been welcomed to Jordan about 50-70 times, but his smile and demeanor stand out with those of only a few others as being truly truly welcoming. What a terrific first impression of the people of this country!

Dov & Dolphins

I planned on flying from Tel Aviv to Eilat, where I would dive with dolphins at a place I had learned about called Dolphin Reef. Rather than departing from the larger Ben Gurion International airport, I got a flight out of the smaller Sde Dov airport, which is closer to where I was staying. Adi dropped me off around 8:15 for my 9:20 flight -- this airport is a one room operation. This should have been fine if security hadn't, for some reason best known to themselves, targeted me as their object of scrutiny in a paranoid Israeli power trip act. They put me through a 35 minute inquisition that involved my recounting my travel itinerary to date to two people independently, showing pictures of Adi in Israel to them on my camera (after I said I had been staying with her during my stay in their lovely country), giving them names of some other Israelis I know, showing them pictures of lions and Israelis in Zimbabwe on my computer, and finally giving them Adi's phone number so they could call to verify our acquaintance.
The guard who was the magister of the inquisition said several times, "Why do you look so nervous? Don't be. You'll get your passport back and make your flight." If that was assuredly the case, why the hell were they going through all of this? I was very calm and collected for about 25 minutes of the process, and then I finally said, "This is incredibly frustrating. I have no idea why you don't believe my story and have kept questioning me about things that seem to largely be private and of no concern to anyone's security." Well, that's what I was thinking (or something very similar). What I said was certainly a much milder version which I uttered pretty calmly and with confidence because I had done ZERO wrong and was finally annoyed with the whole situation. She responded well to this, probably because they knew I was actually telling the truth about everything. Don't they regularly get foreigners coming through here saying hey met people from their country while working with lions in Zimbabwe?! She said they were just going to call Adi as the last part of the process. They did. Fortunately, she wasn't so fed up with me as to say, "David who?"

I was on my way after that. In retrospect, I'm wondering if they have some sort of special x-ray scanner that showed them the Palestinian kefiya I got in Jerusalem in my bag. Hmm…

Upon arriving in Eilat I headed straight for Dolphin Reef. The dolphins there go out at night into the Red Sea but they come back every morning to spend their days around the resort. In addition to the excitement from this being the first dive after my Open Water certification in Knysna, I was mesmerized by the fact that these dolphins were swimming all around me -- that I was truly in their world more than they were in mine, which is the case at an aquarium or a place like Sea World. This event triggered lots of memories from when I was younger and wanted to be a marine biologist studying animal communication.

One fantastic aspect of Dolphin Reef is their emphasis on non-tactile interaction. The dive master I swam with stressed that under no circumstances should we touch the dolphins during our dive, even if they swim right past us. This is not a petting zoo for the guests who come. These are not trained dolphins. There was one scientist who was talking about the dolphins to people. If they dolphins came up to him, he'd rub them for a minute and they'd swim away and maybe come back a while later. My analogy is that these are more like playful cats than the dog-like trained dolphins who jump through hoops or do tail moonwalks on command. Dolphin Reef also has a more new-agey area that offers water relaxation workshops and relaxation experiences in some pools of different temperatures, with audible music below the water. Maybe I'll check those out next time. Being underwater with the dolphins and sitting on the beach for a couple of hours afterwards was relaxing enough for me. In a heartbeat I would dive again with these animals.

09 November 2009

A Little Judaica, a Little Christianica, and a Little Islamica

Adi and I booked a tour of the "tunnels" underneath the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem for 9:20 a.m. At 9:20 a.m. Adi and I are sliha-ing people right and left, running through the streets of Old Jerusalem to get to the Western Wall. No problem. After going through the worthwhile underground tour and saying a prayer at the Western Wall, we set off on a self-guided amble through the Muslim Quarter and the Christian Quarter, stopping along Via Dolorosa a few times, as one should.

I really just wanted some falafel as a snack for lunch while walking around, to round off the bread and zatar we had. But the Hummus Tour had to continue! We had falafel and a bowl of Jerusalem hummus (mine with foul) each. Must walk off the chick peas!

Jerusalem is a place, like many others, that must really be experienced first hand. I'll simply say that there were several times during the day that I was moved. The greatest of these was in The Dormition. We met with Adi's friend Roni and then went to visit a friend of his named Bilal. Both of these gentlemen showed us great hospitality and generosity. Here are some of the other places Adi and I visited in the Holy City of Jerusalem:
  • Church of the Holy Sepulchre
  • King David's Tomb
  • Crusader-built Room of the Last Supper

Later in the week we traveled northeast to the Galilee. En route we stopped for a few hours in Nazareth (الناصرة‎/נצרת). Since Nazareth is heavily Arab Christian and it was Sunday, there was very little to going on. Even most of the shops were closed. We did, nevertheless, spend a good amount of time at the Basilica of the Annunciation and checked out the highly disappointing and poorly kept "Mary's Well" (if indeed what we were looking at was Mary's Well). In the evening, I took the opportunity to attend my first mass in Arabic with Adi (her first full mass ever) at the lower grotto of the basilica.

We continued East toward The Galilee, passing through Cana (where we didn't stop for a glass of wine!). In Tiberias we found a very nice restaurant called Little Tiberias (scrumptious eggplant roulade that was effectively deconstructed caponata with feta, and filet of a Red Sea fish called Denise in an herb butter sauce), and made our way to sleep in Migdal (also Magdal[a], as in Mary Magdalene). I saw no prostitutes on the streets of Migdal, so maybe it's been cleaned up in the past 2000 years. The following day we trekked on to
  • Kfar Nachum (Capernaum), where Jesus spent much of his time and where Peter and a few other apostles came from
  • Mount of the Beatitudes, home of the Sermon on the Mount
  • Tabgha, where the miracle of the loaves and fishes purportedly took place
  • Upper Jordan River

On the way back to Tel Aviv, we stopped in Safed/Tsfat (צפת), "World Capital of Spirituality and Jewish Culture" and home of the Kabbalah. There's an Ashkenazi Quarter, a Sephardic Quarter, and a Citadel atop a hill which provides stunning views of the surrounding area. It would have been nice to have a bit more time there to appreciate the art and cultural elements, but we wanted to make one more stop and had to make it back in time for an appointment in Tel Aviv. To take in a bit of a different culture from the region, our final brief stop in the predominantly Druze village of Holfesh for a Druze pita: a gigantic flatbread smeared with labaneh, zatar, something spicy like harissa, and a generous drizzle of exceedingly fresh olive oil, all folded into a manageable po-boy size sandwich. The kind lady running the roadside restaurant brought us an herbal tea made with freshly cut leaves typical of the Druze. This made for a fine late afternoon snack.

08 November 2009

Dining in תל אביב

After a super 3 a.m. airport reunion with my friend Adi, with whom I had almost instantly hit it off in Zimbabwe and later traveled to Chobe National Park in Botswana, my first day in Tel Aviv was spent chilling, sipping Arak (cf Pastis) at Mezizim beach on the Mediterranean, and sorting out how we would work the week. Adi generously shuffled her entire life around to accommodate me, and in advance of my arrival discussed Israeli culinary options with her network of friends. She had a list of roughly ten places we should go while I was visiting. Unfortunately, I don't know that she grasped, before I arrived, what the gastronomic aspect of my journey is about exactly. [Ir]regardless, we did not starve.

Within the first two days I must have consumed about 1/2 kgArak and Olives of olives. Adi made me an Israeli breakfast of salads, cottage cheeses, silan (date syrup), and bread. We had Libyan food at Casserole one night, including an incredible eggplant mousse and a spicy beef cheek & lamb stew with couscous. The next night we had Georgian food (not of the fried green tomatoes, field pies, and chicken fried steak ilk, mind you) at Nanouchka. Herbs, walnuts, and plums seemingly play prevalent roles in Georgian cooking. I had a white bean and white wine braised lamb shank. Adi and I went for a drink nearby. I'm fairly certain Jesus served me my black russian.

Well before I ever stepped foot on a plane, a friend in Seattle gave me a few suggestions of things to see and do while in Tel Aviv. One that percolated to the top of my list was having hummus/masabaha at Abu Hassan in Jaffa. Evita had her rainbow tour; the lunch at Abu Hassan, eating hummus using layers of quartered onion thus began my hummus tour of Israel and beyond. Thanks, Anat, for pointing me in this direction. [Here's a picture of the awning at Abu Hassan in Jaffa. Only just realized that the post is blocking the name of the place. Well, at least you can read what they serve: hummus, foul, masabaha, labneh]Abu Hasan

beachI wandered around Jaffa for several hours then and on another day walked from Jaffa back up the beach front to Adi's. Such strolling is necessary after consuming a few cups of blended chick peas at one sitting.

Chez ParentsOne other noteworthy dining experience in Tel Aviv was having Friday night dinner at Adi's parents' place. We had her dad's famous grilled whole eggplant with tahina, avocado salad, puff pastry stuffed with mushrooms and vegetables, and goooooood goulash. Besides this, it was a real treat getting a chance to meet the parents I had hear so much about and converse with them for a few hours about everything from lions to sociopolitical tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

07 November 2009

Bobbing Along, Bobbing Along, on the Surface of the Extremely Briny Sea

(Obviously to the tune of this Bedknobs and Broomsticks song)

A trip to Israel or Jordan would not be complete for a tourist without a visit to the uniquely salty Dead Sea. People may or may not be aware of how much easier it is to float in the ocean, a gulf, or some other body of salt water. However, the experience of swimming or floating in the Dead Sea, besides leaving you with a slightly less than pleasant film of minerals coating your entire body, greatly magnifies the effect of salt water on an object's buoyancy. Oh, and it'll quickly remind you how much salt burns if you have any scratches or cuts, or if you get it in your eyes. The most impressive part, when you stop to think of it, is that almost your whole body is on top of the water. You could be in water two meters deep, lie on your side, and it would look like you're practically lying on sand just a few inches below the surface.

On the same day as our visit to the Dead Sea, we spent a few hours in Ein Gedi at Wadi David, or David's Valley, where there are a few waterfalls, some cool freshwater pools beneath them, and pretty trails of varying degrees of difficulty on the mountain. Just be careful the Nubian Ibexes (or Ibices even) are not throwing rocks down on you from above. I hear they do that sometimes.

31 October 2009

Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em

Why is it that the US airline industry has led us to believe that cutting costs is essential for the survival of flight when airlines in many other parts of the world still serve meals (even on two hour flights) that they do not charge extra for, do not make you pay to check your bag, and generally have less expensive service from point to point? If I hadn't eaten on the flight from Johannesburg to Addis Ababa, I may have been able to try some of the food that smelled so good (once you waded your way through the cigarette smoke) in the airport there. Oh well.

Mini Harnas Reunion (...LEFTOVERS!!!)

Marina greeted me at the airport with a warm Harnas welcome -- although there were no banners and streamers -- whisked me away to my home for the next few nights with her and Anton. She described their cat on the way there: Devil Cat (a.k.a. Siam). I figured I had seen or known worse, so I was not concerned. When I arrived and met Anton and the alleged Devil Cat, they both gave me a friendly hello and the latter wound herself around my legs in a figure 8 before proceeding to investigate the bags I had put down in my room.

Apartheid Day (described in earlier post) filled the first portion of my stay. Let's not think about how I could justify leaving an area of town with so little only to cook and eat well for the next 28 hours, but the remainder of my stay in Jo'burg following the Apartheid retreat would be all about food and drink.

It was decided that I would make jambalaya for my hosts as a way of expressing gratitude for putting me up for a few nights and taking care of me. Obviously, finding andouille in South Africa is not straightforward, so we prepared improvised jambalaya. Incidentally, in retrospect, I'd like to try it with some smoked chicken breasts I saw at Woolworth's and karvanasi if I have the chance to prepare it again in ZA. It was delicious, if a tad on the bland side for my taste. What is most important is that my hosts appreciated it and enjoyed it, which seemed to be the case. Success!

The primary -- yes, this is true -- reason or excuse for my visit to Johannesburg was to attend the Good Food and Wine Expo I had read about in South African Airways' Sawubona in-flight magazine on the way to Africa at the end of August. Marina and I bonded at Harnas over our mutual "career gap" status, so it is fitting that we attended the expo on Friday morning with the pensioners and the unemployed. Our first wine tasting was probably at 10:15, since we arrived at the expo center ten minutes prior. For me, the rest of the day was spent nibbling and sipping everything from biltong to brandy.

Through fifteen minutes of torrential rain, we went to dinner at Moyo with some friends and relatives of my hosts. I had the most tender ostrich filets in berbere sauce. Although I have no recollection of the exact item, I remember that dessert was mighty good as well. This was a perfect, if foreshadowing, final day in Southern Africa before my departure to the Middle East the following day.

29 October 2009

Apartheid and the Part I Hated

Thursday was a day to ponder the history of Apartheid. In the morning Marina and I went to the Apartheid Museum, where
I think I could have certainly spent another two hours than we did. There is a lot to absorb. Fortunately I would get the chance to spend additional time taking in first-hand accounts and personal experiences at the Hector Pieterson museum in Soweto during my afternoon tour through the township. This small but moving museum traces the events leading up to and following the 1976 Soweto Uprising. Before today I didn't realize that the Uprising was a protest against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of education. Talk about a Language War!

The most awkward and uncomfortable aspect of the township tour was walking into someone's home in the middle of the afternoon with my [very] local guide (not the driver who'd been showing me around Soweto), in a very poor part of the township. I was led into the mini compound/home of a woman who has 11 people living with her in total. Her family (she and three young girls) stay in one tiny shack, while the rest of the people are basically tenants that stay within the confines of her fence line. She was in the middle of cleaning some chicken innards to prepare for dinner. I am not sure what questions I was supposed to have for her, but I was free to ask them. "How many people live here?" That was a good one. "What are you cooking for dinner?" There's another. It is not that I would not have liked to spek with this woman, but the encounter, despite its natural setting, felt completely unnatural, forced, and awkward. Only a few minutes after leaving her place did I have to tell some locals selling curios just by where the car was parked that I was not in the market for ANYTHING I'd have to traipse around the globe with. Great.

28 October 2009

Travel, Food, [New] Friends, [Country] Life

In theory, one is supposed to arrive at the Intercape bus stand thirty minutes before the bus leaves Stellenbosch en route to Knysna (pronounced /naizn@/). I arrived just after 6 a.m. "Bus stand" is an exaggeration. David stand, yes. Bus stand, no. Near the university there is a foot bridge overhead that serves as the landmark on the Intercape reservation confirmation page. Other than that, it is just a place on a street in Stellenbosch that has no indication that the Intercape bus (or any other one for that matter) stops there except for 1) the off-street section of the road that looks like it's about the size of a bus and 2) the fact that the stoned guy at Stumble Inn told me that's where it stops.

About eight hours on a moderately comfortable bus and a few refreshment stops, I arrived at the Knysna Quays where I was greeted by Julia, an acquaintance of a friend of a friend who graciously agreed to host me, sight unseen but with a few e-mails exchanged, for a week (or as long as I wanted) in Knysna. I don't think I could have asked for a cooler host. Before I even left Seattle, Julia had gotten in touch with Dell & Sanchia, the mother-daughter proprietors of Firefly, a restaurant that is featured in the November issue of Country & Life magazine, about the possibility of my getting together with them for a culinary exchange of sorts. While they may have been open to the idea, it didn't materialize over the time I was in Knysna. Nevertheless, I did have a beautiful dinner there with Julia my second night in town, which started with a star anis caipirinha (foreshadowing the Brazilian leg of my travels in 2010) and ending with a do-it-yourself spiced hot chocolate (harkening back to my days of DIY chocolat chaud in Brussels at Fin du Siècle).

How I worked up an appetite that day was by calling Stefan, of Hippo Dive Campus, and embarking upon the beginning of my Open Water PADI certification all afternoon. The scuba course took place over the next couple of days in the bay/lagoon. I'm now certified and ready to do a bit more advanced diving when opportunity next arises. Sorry, there are no pictures of me in a wetsuit decked out in a snazzy BCD with big ol' yellow cylinder on my back.

Since we're on the subject of animals, I should mention Julia's three dachshunds. This one is Tanouk, engaged in a stand off with one of those vicious stripèd animals who was hiding behind a planter on the balcony.

Before stepping foot in Knysna, I realized or decided that it was going to be a place where I could consider consumables and generally relax -- on land or up to about 60 ft under water. Besides going to firefly, while visiting this town I had some tasty SA oysters, went to the farmers market, had incredibly inexpensive and delicious SA wine, cooked and ate with julia, and learned a few Xhosa words and a couple of dishes like umngqusho & umxube (each with different clicks: ‘q' & ‘x') with Thami. Beyond eating and drinking, spending a week here gave me a bit of time to enjoy the company of my host[ess], who I clearly hope will one day allow me to return the favor in my home...wherever and whenever I have one again...

Deep in the Heart of the Winelands: CouchSurfing Without the Couch

Paid more for the taxi ride from the lodge in Cape Town to the train station (R20) than the train ("first class") from Cape Town to Stellenbosch (R12). I love public transportation. [White] locals I spoke with over the next two days seemed impressed by my ability and willingness to take the train. Odd, seemed fine to me. Maybe they should try it.

Upon arriving in Stellenbosch Sunday morning, I was immediately struck by the scent of jasmine and maybe honeysuckle in the air as I walked to the place I was staying. In case you're wondering, the name of said establishment is the Stumble Inn. Catchy name and a decent (and CHEAP) enough place to stay, but I wouldn't call it home for an extended visit to the Winelands. After depositing my affairs, I quickly went out for a stroll around town. Stellenbosch is a beautiful small town with white buildings and oak lined streets, lots of small shops and cafes, and a generally good vibe. In addition, I went to a place for lunch that had a good wine selection as well as wireless internet access! (of course for a fee)

I had connected with a few local CouchSurfers before arriving and, although none of them could host me, we made plans to get together while I was visiting. Sunday night I went over to the flat of some super nice students, Carel & Ericka, for tasty tasty TASTY hamburgers. I brought with me a bottle of Ethnopio, a SA red blend that turned out to be quite pleasant to drink with Ericka's burgers. This was my second CS experience since arriving in Africa, and we're two for two to date.

On Monday I again demonstrated my enterprising nature in sorting out a train to Paarl (R8.50). Paarl had been on my itinerary since the moment I found out the Taalmuseum or Afrikaans Language Museum was there. After a fairly lengthy delay getting to Paarl, I meandered through a city where I sensed people actually live and work to find the museum. The woman who greeted me at the museum is a cultural historian who went out of her way to give me much more information than I would have expected to get on a one-to-one basis. It was an incredibly informative visit that I'm very happy I made time for. Disappointingly, I didn't get to the taal monument, however, since I needed to catch a train back to Stellenbosch.

The train back to Stellenbosch arrived just in time for me to be picked up by another CSer, Leendert, who had invited me to go with him, his sister, and a friend to JC le Roux for champagne (sparkling wine & méthode cap classique) tasting. Again, another wholly positive CS experience! It was a pleasure to meet Leendert, Rosanne, and Jackie; and the champange & nougat pairing we had was a real treat.

By coincidence, I had been on Facebook a couple of nights prior at the same time as an IU friend. He mentioned that he had a good friend in Stellenbosch who he subsequently got me in touch with. Said Stellenbosch friend and I arranged to have dinner Monday night. Following a brief period of recuperating following the champagne tasting, I was ready for dinner with Dawie and François. Although not connections through CS, I'll lump them into the category of fantastic quasi-strangers who I met via some online social networking medium and walked away hoping to see again someday.

I Paid HOW MUCH to be Seasick for This Long?"

Saturday morning I was fetched birght and early (5:30am), after hanging out until 1:30 at two bars in De Waterkant with a nice couple I met, to trek off 2+ hours to Gansbaai for cage diving with great white sharks. To make a long story short (I know, that's not the purpose of a blog, is it?), I was sick for about three of the 4.5 hours we were out on the water, got in a cage, saw a couple of sharks, cruised back to shore, drove back to Cape Town.

Where's the magic, you ask? Well, I will say this, the swells on the ocean were kind of magical. I do not recall ever having been on a boat or ship where the waves seemed to be as high as the vessel itself. The sea was also magical in that it had such a dramatic effect on about half the people on board. There were two guys who, after getting sick over the side of the boat, were lying on the bow for the remaining 3 hours or so. I got sick just before donning my wetsuit and getting in the cage. Once I was in the water, I felt about 95% better; but damn was it cold!

To sum up, the Hawaii shark cage dive experience was MUCH better, even though that wasn't with great whites. That I would do again just like it was the first time. South African shark cage diving I would do again IF
  1. it were paid for by someone else,
  2. I were on a smaller boat with fewer people, or
  3. it were part of a scientific endeavor of some sort.
What comes on TV a little while after I get back to the lodge in the evening? You guessed it: nothing other than the 1975 classic Jaws.

Malay I Have Some More, Asseblief?!

On my ride into the city from the Cape Town airport on Monday night, I had a feeling that my driver was a Cape Malay man. His wife (I assumed she was his wife but could have been wrong) was sitting in the front passenger's seat -- which, incidentally, is where much of the world's front driver's seat would be found -- during our 20+ minute ride. I happened to mention that I was interested in learning about local cuisines on my travels and how Cape Malay cuisine was on my radar. The driver, Manie, effectively said "look no further" and remarked that his wife, now patting the person in the passenger's seat on the shoulder, was the best Cape Malay cook around. I asked if they might be able to find a convenient for us to get together again during the week I expected to be in Cape Town. How could I pass up this opportunity?

I was picked up from De Waterkant Lodge on Friday morning by their son at 11 to go help Aziza prepare lunch. The men were to go to mosque at 1 and would come home afterwards and eat. Aziza was a gracious teacher and host. We drank rooibos tea as she talked to me about what we would be preparing: Mutton Curry (which could have been mutton bredie if we hadn't put the spices in), chicken breyani (cf biryani), onion & tomato sambal, and roti.

Around 1:30-2:00 a few people started filtering in through the front door, including Manie, Aziza & Manie's son, a nephew, and a neighbor. Introductions were made and food was put out on the table. We dined and chatted for about an hour. Meanwhile, Aziza had put some of the rootie, breyani, and curry in containers for me to take back to the lodge with me. Yes! Leftovers!

The meal I shared with these gentlemen, not to mention the delightful lady who tought me how to make it, was not only delicious but rounded off with good conversation minimally in Afrikaans but mostly in English since these were among some of the most considerate Afrikaans speakers I had met to date, conscientiously switching to English because the stranger who had made them lunch didn't understand their language. I must have said to Aziza twice that the time I was spending with her and her family that day in their home was perhaps the best time I had had in Cape Town. This was a sincere statement and holds true still.

23 October 2009

Cape Town and Continued Hebraica

To best continue the theme of Jewish and/or Israeli connections that have now entered into this voyage by way of having met four Israelis while on the project at Victoria Falls (and if I had stayed another day I would have met a fifth -- the marketing people in Israel for that project must be really top drawer -- I went to the South African Jewish Museum & Holocaust Centre, conveniently situated as one of the stops for the hop-on-hop-off double-decker city tour bus that goes around Cape Town. I ended up spending about two hours there. Interesting, small museum and friendly people working there. I then got back on the bus up to the Table Mountain funicular base station and hung out at TM for a while since it was a clear, beautiful day with blue skies and few, if any, clouds. The next stop I was aiming for was Camps Bay beach, across from the Bay Hotel. There I disembarked again and hung out in the sun on the sand for a while and then did the same at Clifton [3rd] Beach. I decided to keep walking up the coast to the next stop, rather than backtrack. It was a lovely sunset and the views were gorgeous. I hopped back on the city-tour bus at Sea Point so that I might get to the V&A Waterfront area before dark, as people say one shouldn't really walk around after dark. I saw in Lonely Planet that there was a Turkish restaurant in the same neighborhood where my home for the week was, so I went to check it out. At Anatoli I had way more food than was necessary, and the two glasses of SA wine I had helped send me right into an alco-food coma.

After some non-touristic a.m. shenanigans (i.e. a long Skype conversation) were over, I headed out to stroll around the V&A Waterfront for a while. I had read in one of the in-flight magazines along the way about a Belgian restaurant at the Waterfront, so guess where I had lunch. The nostalgia for my time during the great Belgian Boondoggle and the trek through Flanders and Above was too great, so I heeded the call of Den Anker.

My sister-in-law Susan suggested the trip to and tour of Robben Island to see the former maximum security prison where Nelson Mandela (Mandiba) was held, along with countless other political prisoners during the old regime's control of South Africa. It was very moving to have Muthe (/mute/) a former political prisoner as a guide for the second half of the visit, speaking from personal experience about how people came to be there, what people endured there, etc. Since we were slated to be on the 6pm (last) ferry of the day to return to the Waterfront, people started getting antsy while Muthe was talking. Some even walked out. Why, you may ask? The final element of the tour is a stop in front of the cell where Mr. Mandela stayed while at Robben Island. The feeling I had once we were shortly thereafter ushered to where the cell was was very similar to the feeling I have had at The Louvre, observing the crowd gathered in front of the (tiny) Mona Lisa.

On Thursday I decided to go on an organized tour of the Cape Peninsula with African Eagle, starting on the Atlantic Coast, going south around the cape and up the False Bay Coast. As luck would have it, there was an American Jewish (one of whom was an Egyptian immigrant to the U.S.) as well as an Israeli woman on the tour. Almost needless to say, I was engaged in conversation with them at times chatting was appropriate or called for. I came to find out the the American woman's baklava is the best anywhere. Unfortunately, she did not have a sample with her for me to assess the validity of her claim. On our way back to Cape Town, we first stopped along the coast near Simonstown, where I saw some free range (aka wild) jackass penguins. No, the penguins are not called jackass penguins because they make particularly smart assy comments or annoy people excessively, Mike. Although I didn't hear them do it, they apparently make a sound similar to a jackass (donkey). We then stopped at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in or near Constantia, which was the first wine growing area in the Cape. The KBG are beautiful and definitely worth a visit. I would love to see a concert or other performance in the amphitheater there on a nice evening, maybe with a bottle of wine from right down the road!