Adventure Week

“Isn’t it the most blissful thing in the world to be away from everything you have ever known – to be so far away that you don’t even know yourself anymore and you’re not sure you ever want to come back to all the things you’re a part of?” – Jamaica Kincaid

It has been two weeks now in South Africa and I am already starting to feel the dread of not having enough time in such a beautiful country. I find myself dreaming about extending my stay for extra semester …. or maybe even forever!

These past two weeks have been a blissful vacation – virtually zero obligations, perfect weather, and a trove of beaches to choose from. Sadly, reality will hit tomorrow as classes are set to begin.

Former UCT study abroad students have dubbed the week between registration and the beginning of classes as “Adventure Week”. Many study abroad students take the time to travel the Garden Route up the coast or head up Krueger National Park. Some even venture to Namibia or Mozambique. My roommates and I took this week as an opportunity to explore our new home. Cape Town has so much to offer – and we have too little time to experience it before “Varsity” begins!

This past Tuesday was the full moon. It is tradition for Cape Town residents to climb nearby Lions Head Peak monthly in the moonlight. A fellow student described the climb as “more of walk than a hike” so I gladly decided to join. Apparently, however, South Africans have a slightly different version of a “walk” than Americans do. After picturing an idyllic stroll, I rather found myself clinging to a ladder drilled into a cliff face! Quite a nerve-wracking experience! While not exactly a walk in the park, it truly was a beautiful hike. We watched the sunset over the ocean from the summit and then descended in the moonlight. I honestly believe Cape Town is even more striking at night. I plan to return to Lions Head every full moon!

The morning after our full moon hike we hopped on the train to spend the day in Stellenbosch, about an hour outside of Cape Town. Stellenbosch is the heart of the South African vineyards. It also is home to the University of Cape Town’s rival, Stellenbosch University. The rivalry stems from UCT’s birth as a British university. Stellenbosch, on the other hand, historically has been Dutch. The white South African population is predominantly comprised of descendants of either Dutch or British immigrants. The two populations have vastly different customs, histories, and languages. At times, the two populations have even descended into warfare. Today, they remain fiercely proud of their individual heritages. Classes at UCT are taught in English whereas at Stellenbosch they continue to be taught in Afrikaans (a mix of Dutch, Cape Malay, and Bantu languages).

We spent our day in the wine-country mountain biking from vineyard to vineyard tasting various wines. I’m not sure which I enjoyed more, the wine or the views from the bike-paths!

Today my friend Jess and I spent the day on Robben Island. As a history major, I was incredibly excited for this trip. Robben Island was the maximum-security prison where Nelson Mandela was kept for 18 out of his 27 years in prison. Just last night I finished Mandela’s autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom”. It seemed fitting to attend Robben Island the following day.

At Robben Island, the tour-guides are former political prisoners. My tour-guide was imprisoned during the 1980s for smuggling messages across the Botswana border to the ANC (Mandela’s political party), which was banned in South Africa at the time.

I found the tour to be incredibly a moving. It struck me that a place that could symbolize the evil of the apartheid regime was turned into a place of celebration and respect.

I think that Robben Island is indicative of the South African mentality. Rather than looking behind and placing blame for the atrocities committed in the past, South Africans preach acceptance and celebrate the “Rainbow Nation” comprised of many different cultures.

I recommend the Robben Island Museum to any tourist visiting Cape Town. Hopefully you wont get as seasick as I did on the ferry!

Sadly tomorrow “Adventure Week” ends and “Varsity” begins. I am both looking forward to learning and dreading missing out on the beautiful weather. Ah the downside of perpetual summer!