Wednesday, October 21, 2009


South Africa was honestly one of the best times of my whole life. That first morning, most of the “shipboard community” rolled out of bed in time to watch the sun rise over Cape Town as a few wise dolphins guided us into the port. Straight off the ship we took a taxi to the foot of Table Mountain and our driver, Ricky, demonstrated his rave hands in time with Beyonce’s “If I Was A Boy” and honked at any car that dared be driven by anyone but him. Life in the fast lane, I said to him. Only 4 of our original group of 12 dared to take on the 3 hour trail to the summit. It was essentially a vertical ascent and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Since band camp. We took a break halfway up by lying in a waterfall (back sweat insurance) and took subsequent breaks every couple minutes. By the end I had moved from my position at the front of the pack, where I had been impressively bounding off out-of-the-way rocks, to a position 20 feet behind the rest, crawling on all fours, muttering “this too shall pass” under my wheeze. We finally made it and the view was so beautiful, made all the better by the fact that I could share it with my still-beating heart. We (my heart and I) rewarded ourselves with an apple spritzer. Took the cable car back down the mountain, in manner of Willy Wonka elevator.

By this time it was early evening, also known as time for a feast. We found a restaurant and sat there for almost 3 hours, just chain eating. We talked about everything and our little group of four friends (Megan Haley Jade me) has since credited that dinner as ‘the moment we knew.’ One order of nachos, a pizza bread, a greek salad, 2 slices of pizza, and 2 chocolate milkshakes later, I accidentally fell asleep. We took that as a cue to gracefully bow out. That night we met up with 3 of our guy friends and went to an Irish pub where a live band was playing Wonderwall seemingly on repeat. That night took many twists and turns and we ended up dancing until the early hours at a discotheque on top of a building with a backdrop of Cape Town in fairy lights.

The next day we went to the aquarium, a marketplace, and Subway (sorry), and just absorbed the feeling that comes from existing at the bottom of Africa. I’m skipping things in favor of keeping this as brief as possible, which still isn’t brief, so onward and upward. The next day we rose early and headed out into the world to find a driver willing to take us to Stellenbosch, which is South Africa’s answer to Napa Valley if Napa was a huge college town. We checked into our hostel, Stumble Inn, ha, and set out for a full day of touring the region’s winelands and vineyards and cellars. We wended our way through the hills to four wineries, cheese tasting and acting sophisticated and lying in fields all the while. We also had a delicious South African lunch at a restaurant with our guide, who openly and deeply disliked me. I was forced to ask the question “Would you ever hit a woman?” He was not pleased. The rolling green vineyards and misty air made for such a magical day and by the end we’d made a hundred friends and a thousand laughs.

We spent that whole night hanging out with the South African college kids at a place called Terrace and it was exactly exactly exactly how I always wanted college to be. I briefly considered transferring there, it’s just SO FUN. The place was packed and they were blasting Blink 182 and screaming the words and everyone was throwing flour and garlic at each other like in the food fights of my dreams. And everyone was dressed like I wanted them to be, not that that’s important.

Next day we were up early for a SAFARI. We all wore the exact same outfit (except for Jeff, who we subtly excluded the rest of the day). Black pants + black ‘The Goat Father’ shirts we had bought at one of the wineries. The Aquila Game Reserve was 2 hours away, but luckily the guy working the front desk ‘knew a guy’ and hooked us up with a driver the night before, so that morning he showed up just half an hour late, and we threw our backpacks in his hatchback and set off into the mountains. Our driver was the striking leather-clad John Johnson, whose only qualification seemed to be has truck with hatchback. A brief ode to JJ: He used to have hair that he could sit on but he cut it off four years ago to start a new chapter of John. I jokingly asked where the hair was now, and he replied “in my cupboard.” The catch: his ex-fiance recently stole it so she could do voodoo on him. The present location is unknown. Also, he says the F word a lot… why? His mother was struck by lightning while he was in the womb. Lastly, he has a dual obsession with Y2K (9 years man…) and the Mega Volcano of 2012, which will destroy all but 3% of the population. Anyway we had the time of our lives with him; he took us to McDonalds, bought us a mini picture book about shacks (which we thought was a gift, but he later reclaimed), and played Trance music the ENTIRE ride, pumping his fist and flipping his hair with the rhythm, except for a brief intermission during which he put on Michael Buble’s Call Me Irresponsible. At the end of the day we found out he wasn’t a tour guide OR a professional driver… he was just the roommate of the guy who did our winelands tour. Nevertheless, I miss him.

So John went off into the wild to wait for us and we set out into the bush in the Comvee (Wild Thornberries reference)… it was SO AWESOME, we saw everything out there: elephants, zebras, rhinos, hippos, springbok, antelope, lions, ostriches, water buffalo, and a lot of wide open Africa. They gave us blankets and sparkling apple juice and we just sat back as they drove the Comvee unbelievably close up to the animals. The land itself was equally incredible though… there’s more sparkle in the water and the clouds are swirlier…everything looks like Lion King. Anyway, after our hugely successful game drive, we retired to the lodge where they fed us the hugest best buffet lunch of all time and where I ate an entire wheel of brie cheese. On the ride back to Cape Town, John told us that bushmen used to live on the reserve and, up until the early 90s, a white man could obtain a license to hunt them. That’s just sick. It seems so far removed now, but in the span of history we were in South Africa right on the tails of apartheid. It’s only been 15 years for Moses’ sake.

Back in Cape Town, we went out to dinner and headed out to Mitchell’s which was packed out for karaoke. Haley and I performed the most moving Don’t Stop Believin that the world has ever seen. There was disco. There was twirling. There were people standing on tables to get a better view. There was a woman in the front row crying. All those flashbulbs and smiling faces… I’ll never forget it. Then we went to a college disco (bizarrely located in a shopping mall) and rocked out to Blink 182 all over again all night.

Our final day was spent around the wharf, trying to go shark diving. We booked 3 different early morning shark diving trips, all of which were cancelled due to rough seas. Rage. We accepted defeat and that night we dolled up and headed out for a fancy girls night out dinner. I ate ostrich and deep fried cheese. It was a beautiful thing. They had animal print blankets on each chair for you to wrap up in since the tables were out by the water, and at the end of our meal Haley and I surreptitiously didn’t surrender them (if sprinting away from the scene with a large blanket under your dress can be surreptitious). We spent the whole night dancing, wearing the blankets as fur stoles. I’ve never had so much fun in my life… until I fell off a table and jacked up my shin. But the show had to go on and at least I had a zebra fur to add some polish to my tarnished dignity. The sun came up and we got back on the ship just in time for breakfast.

That evening we bid Cape Town farewell from the top deck and I solemnly vowed to return. This is the first port where I can seriously see myself coming to live; I love the people and there’s so much to do and I feel like there’s work there that needs doing. As we set sail and waited for the city lights to fade into the ink, I cried a solitary black tear. “This is not Goodbye, South Africa,” I whispered, “it’s merely TTYL.”


Friday, October 2, 2009



Ghana may have been my favorite country yet. I LOVE it and want to live there forever (once I’m done being a gypsy forever). Name me one other country where you can find a Pizza Inn next to a Chicken Inn next to a Creamy Inn, eat at all three in quick succession, walk outside and buy a xylophone, then get hit by a car. But these are the least of Ghana’s charms.

We ported in Tema and took a 45 minute bus into Accra, the capital of Ghana. We spent the whole afternoon and night hanging out with the locals and shopping the marketplace and just generally having fun. The Ghanaian people are hands down the nicest people I’ve ever met; I have a small yet intimate posse of Ghanaian friends now. Shacka, Casey, Brooklyn, Momi, and Blessing are at the top of my list of “Groomsmen that I will force my husband to include”… Those guys…

The next day we rose with the sun and got on a bus to Tafi Atome, a monkey sanctuary in a village 4 hours away. We brought Megan’s little iPod speaker, dubbed “Gohnathan with a G,” so the whole day The Short Bus was popping. The only problem was that the Ghanaian guys were not satisfied with anything short of a constant stream of Akon. And so it passed that we partook in a Traditional Naming Ceremony to the tune of “Smack That.” My Ghanaian name is Esi. Once we arrived at Tafi Atome, our guide Prince led us on a tour of the surrounding jungle, through villages and schools and an orphanage. Everyone seemed so genuinely happy to see us and so eager to rapidly become the best friends. The kids were adorable in their gingham school dresses and shirts, politely soliciting anything and everything attached to our bodies. By the end of the day I had rid myself of 4 hair ties, 1 headband, a bracelet, a pen cap, 18 cedi (about 12 dollars), and a brochure for Soak City. Thank God, too… that stuff was really putting a target on my head pick-pocket-wise. THEN I fed a banana to a monkey with my bare hands and he peeled it with his bare hands (bare feet? bare talons? Not important.)

From there we took the bus to Wli Falls which is my favorite thing in Ghana. We hiked 45 minutes to it (the highest waterfall in all of West Africa), and since it’s Africa (NO RULES!!!) no one stopped us from touching/getting into anything. We swam in the pool at the base of the falls where the falling water hits the still water with so much force that you cannot see 2 feet in front of you. It’s just a huge pit of cloud where the water slaps your skin like a catholic school nun and rainbows play follow the leader with your eyes. And then out of nowhere, thousands of bats went on a mosh pit rampage in the sky above us. IT WAS UNREAL. That night everyone went out dancing in Tema and I met a guy from the Netherlands named Fart. (moment of reverent silence) When I wasn’t subtly trying to impress Fart, Megan and I spent nearly all of our time doing the Single Ladies dance with a 4-pack of Asian midgets. We completely disregarded our entire demographic in favor of this exotic treat. I have no idea what business they had in Ghana (or what business they had existing) but I have never regretted anything less in my life.

The next day we rose at dawn again to embark on the highly anticipated “Castles and Slave Dungeons Tour.” Weeks before this fateful day, I began subtly slipping it into conversation as “Dungeons and Dragons” …at first there was confusion and resistance but by the time we got on the bus, the system infiltration was complete. All involved parties were referencing it without a trace of irony. A private victory. They led us to Cape Coast, complete with postcard beaches and a market spread across boats on the harbor. We toured two castles that were major players in the slave trade and each had a maze of dark dungeons where they stacked the slaves-to-be like meat waiting to be shipped out to the New World; it was so weird standing down in those dungeons picturing all the blood and tears that were spilled on the same stones. But then they fed us 'Lunch' and things got weirder. A sandwich (in order of appearance, top to bottom): bread - chicken salad - bread - hot dog chunks - bread - egg salad - bread. WHYYYYYY… The thing is, I thought it was delicious. I had to eat it surreptitiously, though, because everyone else found it “offensive” and I didn’t want to be the weird kid. That night we went to hang out in Accra and went to a dance club with a live band. We arrive. Fast forward 20 minutes: I am playing the trumpet onstage.

The final day was previously alluded to in Paragraph One of this post, but I’ll elaborate. We took the bus into Accra one last time and ate at the aforementioned 3 restaurants. I then purchased my beloved xylophone as well as a floor length green tie dye mumu which I wore the entire day in order to not look like a tourist… we then got Glamour Shots taken by a talented Ghanaian photographer (who failed to remove his dry cleaning from our backdrop) and then I walked outside and BAM got sideswiped by some punk in a mini van. My shoulder was clicking for a few days but now all has returned to its natural order. Life is good.

I absolutely loved Ghana because, not only is it gorgeous, but the people are so great. They would stop at nothing to help us; I thought my camera got stolen one night and I had 12 Ghanaian guys forming search parties and whipping out cell phones to call their thief friends. Megan ended up finding it in my purse after 2 seconds of looking, but that is irrelevant. And the guys rejoiced with me like it was our mutual prodigal son. I LOVE GHANA and I didn’t do it justice in this post because right now it’s 4:30am and we pull into South Africa in an hour and a half. There’s no time to procrastinate like the present. I must sleep. I’ve got outrageous plans in SA, but I kind of promise to maybe be punctual with my update when I get back. WISH ME LUCK IN THE INFINITE ABYSS.

(glamour shot)