22 years young. Exceptionally eager to explore and meet the entire world. Starting now. This is for anyone that wants a play by play of any adventures I embark on throughout my life. First stop: Cape Town, South Africa.Ask me anything
So here I sit again outside the World of Whiskies in Heathrow Terminal 1. It’s unbelievable how this trip has already come full circle. I take a look around and everything is just as I left it. The Queen is smiling at me from every storefront, there are men in suits rushing everywhere, kids are tripping on their leashes as their parents frantically drag them to their gates, and people are shopping at the ridiculously priced stores around me. My bags are a little bit heavier with South African goodies and my Toms have a few more holes in them than 3 months ago, but the major difference is in me. I remember the anxious/excited feeling that I had as I sat in this exact seat waiting for my flight to Cape Town. Looking back, I could never have even begun to dream everything I would experience during this summer. There are the obvious things like my adventures: Climbing 3 mountains multiple times, shark cage diving, wine tasting, surgery, bungy jumping, meeting elephants, riding an ostrich, crawling through caves, surfing. But the things I didn’t expect were the people and culture. Honestly, when people ask me about my time here, there is nothing that can properly describe it. I can show you all my pictures and force you to read all of my posts but that’s only a glimpse. All I can say is this, there is something about this country. You can feel the heart and soul of the people everywhere you go. There is passion wherever you turn. I have never felt so welcomed and peaceful as I did there. I know it’s not the safest place in the world, but the beauty makes up for that setback. You can feel the energy pulse into you from the ground as you walk through the streets and through the mountains and forests. I realize that this is a pathetic attempt to describe to you what I’m feeling. I cried as we took off from Cape Town and I saw the silhouette of the mountains and city for my last time during this trip. I’m not going to lie to you and say that I didn’t know who I was when I started this trip and I found myself in Cape Town. I’ve never felt lost. Actually, it was quite the opposite. I’ve always felt so sure of everything I’ve decided to do. These past months have forced me to start questioning myself and that has been a blessing. I think one of the major things I’ve learned during my time in Cape Town is that I need to open my eyes to the world of options and adventure around me. Sometimes you get so stuck in a plan that you forget to realize, you can literally do anything you want in this world. Why limit yourself to one thing? Mentally, emotionally, physically, I’ve pushed myself beyond my limits here and I keep on surprising myself. I’m determined to not have these feelings be fleeting moments of inspiration. To live a full life, I need to feel like this every day if I can. It’s time to stop taking things for granted and realize that the American way is not the only way. It’s time to start truly opening myself up to others and new experiences. That’s the only way I can keep growing. I’m not saying I’m wise now and life is crystal clear. I’m saying that I know more now than I did a few months ago and there is so much left to learn. I can’t wait to continue on my journey and I think if I keep myself this excited about life as I did for three months abroad, I’ll have some pretty amazing adventures in my future. My only plea is that more people join me next time. I love everyone I have met but I do have to admit that I miss everyone back home as well. Time to turn this page and move on to my senior year. I’ll possibly keep you all posted. We’ll see how it goes. Cheers!
So the day finally arrived. It was my last day at the hospital. Even though I’m no longer going into medicine, this was the best internship I could have asked for. The staff are people that I have high respect for as people and as doctors. They are an amazing team and I have learned so much from them. I truly became part of the hospital and they made me part of their team. As I was saying bye to Owen, one of the doctors I did research for, he pulled me aside and told me to make sure and get everyone’s contact information and to keep in touch. I was already planning on doing that but he interrupted me. He said that Prof, the head of the Burn Department had talked about how in the future when I finish medical school, he’d love to have me come back and work with him. They told me they loved how I interact with the staff and patients and they want me to become one of their family. I almost cried right then and there. I sadly told him that I no longer am pursuing becoming a surgeon and he went on to say that they’d still love having me visit and work with the Lion Hearted Kids which is a nonprofit organization starting up in the hospital. I promised to keep in touch and one by one I went through to say goodbye to everyone who has helped me grow these past few months. People always say that they’ll write and keep up to date with each other but I actually plan on it with this staff. They have helped me become who I am today and I can never fully thank them for what they’ve done for me. I had a teary goodbye with my boss, the one who is basically Maggie Smith but a doctor and went to say farewell to a few kids in the wards. I didn’t write this before but a few weeks ago, the little boy with the 86% full thickness burn passed away. This was another one of those moments where I realized I could never work there as a career. That’s something I’ve learned about myself. I get attached to people and I don’t want to have to keep my work and my life separate in order to cope. I don’t plan on changing that. He was a beautiful boy with a big heart. He was suffering terribly for the past month and I’m broken hearted that he didn’t make it but I know that he is no longer in pain. That doesn’t help very much at all, but it’s something that I’ll continue to deal with. From the muffin lady out front to the scrub nurse that always helped me with my gown, I will miss every single person there and I will go back.
I went over to visit my friend at UCT who took me around to show the campus off. I am possibly looking there for graduate school and it was lovely to see the beautiful campus that is perched on the mountainside. We said our goodbyes and I went back home. I went out for a nice dinner with my roommate and two friends. We headed to a pub on the waterfront called Mitchells for some karaoke. I have never done karaoke before so I figured my last night in Cape Town was a good time to try it out. We belted two of the most American songs we could think of. “Allstar” and “Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy”. And the night was over. Thank god I was all packed and just went to bed in my little room in Perspectives for the last time.
My friend Jordan from high school that I ran into a few weeks ago asked me to go surfing with him and his roommates. Surfing is on my bucket list and I figured I could go for one last adventure before I had to leave this wonderful country. I walked over to his place after work one day and we hopped the train to Muizenberg. We walked around and found the Surf Shack where they have lessons to teach kids from townships to surf in order to one day become instructors themselves. We pulled on our wetsuits, grabbed a board, and met our instructors outside. We had one instructor with 3 amazingly talented kids who were going to teach us. The boys got the kids and I was graced with Zac Efron’s body double as my own personal teacher. He informed me that the shark spotting flag was Black today. White means clear conditions. Black means poor conditions. Red means a shark has been spotted. And no flag means that there are no spotters. I was a bit concerned about it being Black and he told me “Don’t worry about it. The sharks are fine.” He didn’t say, Oh no, there are no sharks. He said THEY ARE FINE. What the hell does that mean? He laughed off my fears and told me how to navigate through the waves, which were extra rough for a beginning lesson that day. After that, we had the typical movie surf lesson where you practice on the sand before you head into the water. I got the motions down and we plunged into the freezing ocean. As we came across a “hectic wave” he turned me around and sent me on my way. I tumbled off the board immediately. Zac thought it was amusing and we continued back out to sea. He informed me that a lot of people don’t stand up on their first day out but I wasn’t buying it. After about 6 or 7 falls, I finally stood up. It was the coolest feeling ever! I was Johnny Tsunami. Queen of the ocean. Then I fell off again. Zac went crazy with excitement and took all the credit for teaching me. I like to think that it was my natural talent but we settled on a compromise. I caught quite a few waves and then it was time to head in. I think it’s safe to say that I’m hooked on it now. If I ever move out to a place with an ocean, my first purchase will be a wetsuit and surf board.
Learn to Surf
We then headed on over to a market that was similar to the Old Biscuit Mill in Muizenberg. We had a wonderful chicken sandwich, pumpkin fritters, and some beer and wine. An elderly couple asked to sit with us and we fell into a deep conversation. We had to leave early since our train was supposed to take us back and they were appalled at that idea. They demanded that we get more beer and wine and they would drive us back home. They took on the roll of our adoptive parents that night and we spent hours talking about their lives in pre and post apartheid and their jobs as architects. They were an amazingly gracious couple and it just solidified how welcoming people in South Africa are. I finally got back home, was insanely sore from surfing, and crashed into bed.
We unfortunately had to leave Wild Spirit and headed out to Oudtshoorn where our last two adventures took place. We drove up to the Safari Ostrich Farm and signed up for our tour. It was honestly a very boring tour since we were literally just looking at birds. These guys look mean and we were told that they are “inquisitive creatures” which means they’ll peck at anything shiny. Cameras, glasses, your eyes. Safe to say I kept my distance. We finally got to the interesting part, and the reason for our visit. It was time to hop on and ride the ostrich. It might sound like a stupid idea, and you’re right. We were told not to stand in front of them because if they kick you with their one and only talon, it’ll cut you right in half. Then it was time to ride. This is not a graceful process at all. They stick a sack over the bird’s head so it doesn’t freak out and then they lift the wings and slide you legs under them. You hold onto the wings and lean back as far as you can. They then rip the bag off and start screaming. The bird takes off. I honestly felt like I was riding a Hippogriff from Harry Potter and it made the whole experience that much more fun. The bird was named Speedy Gonzales and he lived up to the title. It was a quick minute of riding and then we were done and I sprinted out of the enclosure. I can say that I was more scared of the birds than I was of the sharks a few months ago.
We got our Ostrich driver’s license and then we headed out to the Cango Caves. There are two options for the caves. One is a standard tour and one is called the Adventure tour. I figured that if we’re here, we may as well go all out and properly explore the caves. I’ve already climbed mountains, swam with sharks, and jumped off a bridge so I guess it was time to test if I am claustrophobic or not. We had a group of about 8 people and we entered the mountainside. The first cavern we came into was massive. They explained the formations all around us and we tried as hard as we could to take some pictures to capture everything around us. Even with a good camera, it’s difficult to take a proper picture in a dimly lit cave. We continued on into two more similar caverns and that was the end of the standard tour. They turned all the lights off to show how it would be like if the generator went off. To say the least, we would have been screwed. We climbed up a tall ladder and squeezed through the “Tunnel of Love” which is a narrow passageway that if you are much bigger than me, you can not fit through. They told us of a story that happened a few months back. An overweight woman demanded that she be allowed to do the adventure tour and they warned her that she would not fit through the crevasses. Her husband took it as a discriminatory insult and demanded she be let through. They didn’t want to argue anymore and she was allowed on the tour. In the Tunnel of Love, she lost her footing and became stuck…for 10 hours. The best part of this “I told you so” moment was that there were 22 other people in front of her and the Tunnel of Love is the ONLY way back out of the caves. They had a rescue team come in and had to pass food and insulin through the tunnel to the diabetic guy and kids on the other side of the wall. After 10 hours, and for some reason one helicopter later, they greased the walls with liquid paraffin and finally got her out. I thankfully fit through the tunnel and continued on crawling through the rest of the caves. They warned us of slimy walls, bats, cockroaches, and scorpions that frequented the passageways but in the dark, you can’t really see anything so you try not to pay attention to the things lurking just out of the light’s reach. We came up to what they call the Devil’s Chimney. It is a tiny hole in the wall that you have to crouch down and slide in with your right shoulder, then you have to mind your head and stand straight up. The chimney is a little bit wider than me and you have to shimmy your way up a few meters to the next cave. This was the scariest part since there was really no going back at this point. I managed to pull myself up with my nonexistent arm strength and I made it to the other side. The poor girl behind me got stuck and started crying for about 20 minutes. I tried to coach her through the ordeal and finally convinced her to calm down and follow my instructions. She asked to grab my hand and have me pull her up. I felt bad saying no so I tried it. I think she thought I was actually strong so she just hung there and expected me to lift dead weight. I told her I’d drop her if she didn’t try and so scurried up the chimney. See? I knew she could do it. The last passageway was one where you had to lay on your stomach, tilt your head to the side, and literally slide down the “Post Box” passageway. After the tour, they told us that last week, one of the guides didn’t count the people in her last group of the day and accidentally turned off the lights and left 3 woman back behind the chimney. The women had their cell phones and used the dinky little lights on them to navigate their way back through the tunnels. It took them 4 hours. I was glad I made friends with the guide so he would have noticed if I was missing or not.
We ended our trip and drove the 8 hours back home. One of the great things about driving in South Africa is that everyone is so polite on the roads. They are all two lane highways that curve through the mountains, so they needed a system to allow people to pass. What happens is if I’m behind a car and can’t see passed them, they turn their right blinker on to let me know it’s safe to pass. I speed in front of them, flash my hazards at them as a thank you and then shine their brights back at us as a You’re Welcome. It was a long drive back and when we drove on the N2 through the township Khayelitsha, there were literally hundreds of police with their cars pulled to the side, brights shining into the township. We were stopped and asked where we were going and where we were coming from. They clearly saw we didn’t belong in the area and urged us to speed up and leave as quickly as possible. There have been riots in the townships and they have been causing the N2 to be shut down quite often. We listened to them and sped into town, unloaded our items, and crashed into bed. All in all, it was the trip of a lifetime and I will be doing it again!
The next day we woke up to the same simple, yet wonderful breakfast. After our day of adventure, we decided to take it easy and just go on a little 7 hour hike along the Salt River Trail. We got the map and we were off. The hike started off in a forest with a little river running through it. The actual path isn’t as defined as one may have liked but if you keep on charging ahead and hop across the river a few times, you’ll eventually follow along where you need to go. There was one point where the path diverges from the river and we could not tell where to go next. I saw a place where the shoulder high grass looked as if it was trampled over a bit so we went through only to find that we were in a small clearing surrounded by trees with no way out. We calmly turned back but somehow we didn’t go back the way we came. For a good 15 minutes we were lost in the woods. Like any responsible person would do, we turned to our map and then realized that the dinky sketch of the path we were supposed to take would do us absolutely no good. That was comforting. We sat quiet for a minute and heard the river. Bear Grylls always talks about following the water and he tends to know what he’s talking about so we made a path towards the sound and finally found the water. We continued to follow the river and finally, we were back on track. When we finally emerged from the woods, we came to a lagoon with canoes and kayaks everywhere. Around us were little vacation homes and it had the feel of a summer camp. Since it is winter here, the whole place was absolutely barren but it was nice and quiet. Once we made it through the village, we finally reached the beach and for the first time in my life, I put my toes in the Indian Ocean. We walked for about a mile along the beach and came across a pub. We stopped in for some great burgers and struck up a conversation with a table of hikers next to us. They told us we had two options to continue our hike, one of which was a great stone beach just up ahead. Apparently it was beautiful but you are not supposed to go during high tide since it’ll all be under water at that point. We had two hours until high tide so we paid and booked it towards the stones. We made it quite a ways in and then high tide started coming. The path in front of us suddenly disappeared and instead of trying to sail our way home, we turned around and hauled ass back to the shore. Instead we took the lookout trail which lead us to the opening where the Salt River meets the Ocean. It honestly looked like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean. The trails back home were nice and steep uphill and we were beat once we finally stumbled back to the lodge.
After we showered up, we curled up next to the fire in the cabin for a lovely quiet night. There were three couples that we met. One was working at the lodge for room and board. They’ve been traveling around South Africa for the whole summer like that. I never even thought about that as an option but before I left I grabbed all the backpacker books they offered and I plan on looking into something like that. They taught me how to make a bracelet with some string they had leftover from a project as we all sat and talked. As I worked on the bracelet, a little girl named Bongi came and helped me. She is almost three years old. She and her mom live at the lodge and she has quite a time with all of the backpackers that wander through her home. The night before, she came up and introduced herself to me, by promptly sitting on my lap. Apparently she considered me her friend and I was happy to have a little shadow tagging along as I explored the lodge. As we enjoyed the cabin, the man who built the Wild Spirit came in to sit with us. I asked him about where he was from and how it came about and he took off with stories. He is from Cambridge and is 92. His wife passed away last year and he started telling us “I can’t believe I’m 92. I just can’t believe it. Life is about happiness you guys. Don’t take it for granted.” I told him about how much I love Wild Spirit and that it was my favorite place in ZA. He started to cry and talked about how that’s the reason they began it in the first place. He eagerly asked if I was planning on coming back and I said of course. He went to bed and I sat up to talk with the other two couples who spoke about the differences in schooling and culture between all of our homes. The musician from the Wild Spirit birthday party came in to join us in a late night conversation. As we spoke, Bongi demanded that I show her my elephant pictures and video. She watched the video 27 times. She was the one who kept count, not me. She would giggle hysterically every time the elephants flapped their ears and would just exclaim “OH MY GOSH, OH MY GOSH. Mommy, I love Jabu. OOO and I love Thandi too! Mommy you need to get me a computer.” She took charge of my Macbook and if I tried to interfere at all I would be scolded. “Be patient. You just wait your turn.” It got late and it was time for Bongi to go to bed. Pretty soon everyone was gone besides me and the family who runs the lodge. One of the guys said that tonight was supposed to be a meteor shower and we all decided to stay up to watch. We grabbed a cup of tea, wrapped ourselves in blankets and went to lay in the pasture with the horses to watch the night sky. I have never in my life seen that many stars shining so brightly. I saw a strange formation in the sky and they informed me that I was staring at the Milky Way. It was stunning. They taught me about the southern cross which is like their Big Dipper down here. Then from the southern cross, you find two pointer stars and use those to locate the southern axis point of the world. I was told that if you just sit all night and look at that point, the rest of the sky spins direction around that. Even if you don’t care about the stars, you have to admit that that is pretty cool. We all shut up when we finally saw the first meteor. It was like a massive bright orange/yellow firework shooting across the night sky. We saw a few of those and numerous shooting stars. It was the most calming night I’ve had here in South Africa. Surrounded by a beautiful family, listening to a chilled acoustic playlist, drinking tea under the stars. I sat and tried to take in everything around me. It was such a feeling of happiness and being content. Just wonderful. We woke up the next morning to breakfast before we checked out. Bongi strolled on out and sat on my lap as we said our goodbyes. She’s not much for talking in the morning so we got along quite well. I promised I would be back, even if is years in the future, and they promised to still be there when I do.
We woke up early after a great night’s sleep. The only downside to staying in a lodge deep in the woods is that it gets quite cold at night. I somehow managed to keep warm with my three blankets, sweatshirt, hat, and thermal leggings. After getting ready we headed over to the porch to get some tea and breakfast. We called and scheduled our jump for 10:00am. We drove the half hour to Bloukrans Bridge, the home to the World’s Highest Bungy Jump of 216 meters. The bridge is situated between mountains, river, and ocean. Next to the Bungy shop, there is a bar snuggled next to the path you take to walk out to the jumping spot. I can only imagine how many people pop back a few shots before they take the leap. We paid for our jump and went to the harness station. We were greeted by an amusing group of guides who were going to take care of us through this adventure. They distracted us from what we were about to do by asking “So, if you survive, what else are you going to be doing today?”. We were each labeled on our hands with our jumper number, weight, and time. I was J7/67/10:00. As we walked out to the bridge, the group suddenly became quiet as we realized what we actually got ourselves into. To get to the center under the bridge, we had to walk through a metal mesh cage over the gorge. To be honest, that may have been the scariest part of the whole thing. Once we got to the center, they had pump up music blasting and we just nervously danced our fears away. The guys decided what order we were to go in and I was lucky number 2. I had absolutely no time to even think about what was going to happen. They ushered me over to sit down in order to have my legs strapped together. Like a dumb dumb, I forgot to wear my big running shoes. Instead I wore my dinky little Toms and they told me to take them off since I was now going to be doing this barefoot. I didn’t even realize it was time when the guy told me to stand up and shuffle my way out to the footprints. I took a deep breath, they put my arms around them, and we went to the edge. I put my toes over the edge, they told me to look up at the camera, screamed 5,4,3,2,1, BUNGY and I supermaned off the bridge. Remember in the Looney Tunes, when someone runs off a cliff and they just stop in midair and look down in fear? That’s what it was like. As soon as I was air born, I felt like I was just hovering. It was the only moment in the entire event that I thought, “What the hell am I doing?”. By that point there was obviously no turning back, the only way to go was down. My stomach didn’t drop, I didn’t panic, nothing. It was absolute silence. Calm. Surreal. It was completely incredible. The thing I really like about this specific bungy is that you don’t get jerked back once your rope is done stretching. It’s very gradual and a smooth pendulum swing. Finally, you come to a stop, hanging upside down, from a rope, 216 meters under a bridge. It’s at this point that I feel like my feet are going to slide out of the harness and I’m going to fall to my death. Before I can get too scared, I hear “Oh hello there beautiful! How was your flight?”. A man comes down, brings me into a seated position and brings me back to the center of the bridge. We chit chat on the way up and I’m greeted by a group of guys ready to pull us onto the platform. They inform me that my jump was flawless (I pretend they don’t say that to everyone when they are done) and I tell them how much I love it and ask if I can go again for free. They politely turn me down and I wait on the bridge for the rest of the group to finish. One of the most amusing things was watching the people who were terrified of heights that decided to do this. They paced back and forth, singing to themselves like a lunatic till it was their turn. Once they came back from their jump though, they were all smiles.
Next we headed on over to the Elephant Sanctuary. We were brought right into a tour with three elephants. They were the most beautiful animals in the whole wide world. Their trainers introduced them to us: Marula, Thandi (love), and Jabu (happy). We were allowed to approach them one by one to interact. I met Jabu and for the first time in my life, I pet an elephant. She was wonderful and so sweet. I could have stayed there for hours but we were only allowed a few minutes and then my turn was up. We snapped some pictures and then I was asked if I’d like to walk with the elephant. Obviously the answer was yes. I walked on over to Thandi, put me hand behind me, she latched onto my hand with her trunk, and we were on our way. At this moment I was high on life. My Baba had always had a love for elephants and ever since I was little, every time I see one, I think of her. I can only imagine how much she was smiling at me as I took a stroll with Thandi. It was such a cool feeling. The last stop was to feel the three girls before we left. We each took a few pieces of food and put it on their trunks. It was harder than it looked. They were hungry and if you hesitated at all, the other two would barge in to try to steal the food for their friend. I know I get cranky when I’m hungry and I didn’t feel like testing elephants to see if they get the same way. The guide informed me that they accept volunteers to work with the elephants so I obviously told him that when I come back to SA, I will do my best to spend some quality time with them.
Our next stop was to Monkey Land. After bungy and elephants, I was not very interested in visiting monkeys but my friend really wanted to go to the restaurant there for some reason so I gave in. We walked into the gate and the guards told us “Be careful, those little bastards steal everything”. I’m so used to zoos where the animals are contained in neat little glass enclosures. Monkey land IS NOT A ZOO. You walk in and there are literally hundred of monkeys just jumping around the trees you walk by. A large man in front of us screamed as one little bugger jumped on his shoulder, took his glasses and dashed off again. I had no idea monkeys were kleptomaniacs but I guess we learn something new every day. They were adorable but as I looked up to me left, I saw a wide eyed monkey staring me down, holding a child’s toy pistol. He looked like he meant business and I hurried along down the path. We reached the restaurant without being attacked but when the gentleman opened the door for us, a monkey shot into the building (where they are not supposed to be), stole a little girl’s sandwich and bracelet, and ran off out the door. She was about 4 and she was not pleased at this occurrence. It may have been one of the funniest moments of my entire trip. We were warned about muggers in Cape Town but no one told us about the greedy monkeys. We drank our hot chocolates quickly and left. I felt a little uneasy in that place to be honest. I kept thinking about Planet of the Apes and was convinced the cute, cuddly monkeys were planning a take over.
We stopped on the way home at a little farm shop and got fresh cheese and bread to tide us over until dinner. We got back to the lodge with a few hours of daylight left so I decided to hike to the waterfall behind Wild Spirit. It was a short hike with little yellow wooden arrows everywhere directing you where to go next. It was so nice and different from the mountains back in Cape Town. We came across a little babbling brook and thought we found the ‘waterfall’ they told us about. We decided to keep going and then saw a nice little waterfall but it was still a disappointment. Then we continued on and finally came up to a 5 story high waterfall off a mountain. Like everything else on this trip, it was beautiful, calming, and we just sat and stared at it for at least an hour.
That night we had some tea, obviously, and sat to talk with our friends from Seattle, Turkey, Amsterdam, and Sweden. As we sat there, a little old man came up and ask us if we had ever been part of a drum circle before. Drum circles aren’t all that popular in Frankfort, Illinois so I said no. He invited us over to the fire and he had brought about 20 African drums. He slowly taught us 4 different beats and once we got them down, he informed us “It’s time to jam”. As we took off and fed off of each other, one of the guys who works at the lodge came out and started fire dancing to our beat. So, to reiterate, I was at a backpackers lodge, in a drum circle, watching a man fire dance. If that is not an African experience, I don’t know what is. As we sat there, the girls from Alabama were being obnoxious as ever. One guy turned to me and said “Gosh I hate Americans. So where are you from again?” I ignored him and kept banging on the drum.