countin' the days

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Farm

I'm a working girl again. Well, sort of.

I'm hanging out a few hundred kilos north of Cape Town at The Farm backpackers (, where I exchange a few hours of my time every day for free accomodation and a small weekly stipend. It's a rustic little hostel nestled in between some citrus groves and towering mountains, with the kind of fresh air and starry skies that you write home about (or, at least write your blog about). Most days, my grueling routine consists of tidying up, cleaning the kitchen, doing some laundry, and helping with odd jobs around the place, such as planting flowers, "landscaping" (ie cutting back shrubs), and painting. Normally I put in anywhere from 2 to 6 leisurely hours a day, with plenty of afternoon time left to laze about in the sun, read books, make jewelry, go for a jog, what have you. I've also been racking up about 1 or 2 days off a week, although at last count today was my third day off this week...

Life continues to be sweet. After 4 months of solid traveling, it's a lovely feeling to settle in a bit to a place, and even more so, to keep some money in my pocket...

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Lush Living

I had almost forgotten how much I love wine. Almost. But the last two days brought it all back, in a wave of more or less nonstop celebration of the magical grape concoction; a fervent reminder of how much of a wino I really am. And what fun it is.

We headed out of Cape Town on the local train, an hour-long R12 ($1.50) journey into the heart of South Africa's wine industry: Stellenbosch... or Stelly, as the cool kids call it (right, Kevvie?). In and around the rolling green hills of Stelly are dozens upon dozens of wineries, surrounded on almost all sides by huge mountains. The scenery blows Napa right out of the water... In addition to the everyday splendor these wineries provide, it is also the beginning of fall in South Africa, so the vines are all beginning to turn intense shades of red, gold, green and brown.

Seeing how we had minimal time to spend in Stelly, were without a car, and all the wineries are very spread out, we opted for something we usually avoid like the plague: an organized tour. Now, I've said it before and I'm saying it again... I'm not a fan of the group tours. But this one was awesome. It was a full day of adventure, getting shuttled around three different areas of wine country with a bunch of other fantastically lush folks. We visited 4 gorgeous wineries, saw a lot of the countryside, had a yummy lunch (with plenty of wine), tasted dozens of wines
and even some farm fresh cheeses, and learned about the winemaking process. By the end of the day, our quiet group of 12 (some of us were, umm, suffering quite a bit from the previous night's escapades) had turned into a raucous group of wine-loving drunkards, and we began opening & drinking bottles in the van in between wineries. It was a very full day, and there couldn't have been a better way to do it.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Cape Town Rock(s)

So, Cape Town, in a nutshell, is my new favorite city. It's got a San Francisco feel, with a bit of New Orleans and New York thrown in, but with a very distinct flavor of its own. It's cosmopolitan, metropolitan, funky, artsy, and drop dead gorgeous. Picture this: an enormous mountain jutting out of the top of a peninsula on the tip of Africa. On one side are stunning beaches, huge cliffs, the Atlantic Ocean; on another side, a bay filled with quaint little villages and warm Atlantic waters; and down below the face of the mountain, the bustling city of Cape Town, complete with a waterfront, a fun strip of bars & restaurants that feels like Haight Ashbury, and phenomenal scenery all around. Amazing!

Our divine backpacker lodge, Ashanti (, is a hop & a skip away from Table Mountain, so one of the first things we did after properly exploring the local bars and supermarkets (tofu!) was hike up to the top. After a grueling vertical hike up a series of boulder stairs in the sweltering heat of the late morning, we managed to make it up top on one of the clearest, most perfect days yet. On top of Table Mountain is all sorts of fun: indigenous flora and fauna not found anywhere else in the world, little trails to take you all over the top, incredible dropoff cliffs, and oh yes, absolutely out-of-this world vistas. The following week or so, inspired by views from the top, we explored many of the surrounding areas.

After getting all over Cape Town proper, we headed out of town for a quick
overnighter to Simon's Town, a big navy port but otherwise cute little fishing village. But it wasn't the fresh fish, fishy smell, or quaintness I was after: it was the penguins. Right next to Simon's Town is home to a huge colony of African penguins. Yes, the same kind that live in Antarctica, but these ones never see snow... instead, they spend their days frolicking in the warm waters of pristine beaches covered with huge granite boulders. And they are damn cute! The trip was worth it just to watch these adorable little dudes waddle about, brey at each other (they used to be called Jackass Penguins), jump over logs, guard and build their nests, and be otherwise totally cuddly and darling -- except for their sharp beaks and, of course, the poo. Everywhere.

About 5 minutes after returning to Simon's Town we headed out yet again, this time to the rock climber's paradise of the Cederbergs. While in Coffee Bay, we met a
Canadian guy named Josh who said he was planning on going climbing in Cape Town, and invited us along. What I didn't realize is that Josh, in all of his 20 years, has become an exceptional climber. He has climbed in competitions with the best of 'em, and is even sponsored by Mad Rock. I went up a few boulders, but mostly spent the next 2 days in complete awe and admiration for this guy. He'd look at a rock that I had deemed more or less humanly impossible to climb, rocks that were seemingly devoid of anywhere to shove your fingers & toes, and he'd just effortlessly race up to the top. The mountains themselves were also fantastic to watch, particularly at sunset when they literally become a burnt cedar color. But in truth, I think the highlight of the trip for me was this little farm stand we stopped at on the way: a brightly colored little shack owned by a South African man who entertained us with stories of getting highjacked in a cab in New York City, all the while shoving perfectly delicious oranges & cantaloupes into our hands. He was probably the most friendly South African I've met yet, and that is a bold statement...

So now I'm planning the next move. I successfully changed my flight, and am now leaving South Africa for Thailand six weeks from now. Tomorrow we're headed to Stellenbosch, SA's wine country... ain't nothin' like a few days of lushing it up right in the vineyards to, uhh, nourish the soul and clear the mind. In any case, the clock is ticking for me to make a decision about which path to head down next... stay tuned...