Adventures in South Africa

I kind of ended up accidentally in South Africa. After my 30th birthday in Mauritius, country #201, I had only a few one-way options out. London, Dubai, Johannesburg, or one of the Indian Ocean islands I had already been to. It wasn’t nearly time to go home, so South Africa was an obvious choice, even though I’ve already been there twice.

up close and personal with a Kruger elephant

I flew into Johannesburg, where I had a couchsurfing friend I met 6 years ago in Rwanda to stay with. Thru the wonderful world of facebook, I realized two Latvian friends, who I know from Iceland, had also just arrived in Johannesburg. They had rented a bright yellow VW we nicknamed ‘Lil’ Miss Sunshine’ and spontaneously left for Kruger the very next morning. There we spent 2 days on a self-drive safari, saw 4 of the Big 5, and nearly got trampled by an angry elephant bull three times the size of our Lil Miss Sunshine (I don’t think they like yellow).

me and the Latvians at Berlin Falls

On the way, we stopped in Nelspruit, where we couchsurfed with a woman, all her cats and one Jack Russell Terrier I had to share my couch with. Her boyfriend is part of the band Minanzi Mbira, and we watched one of their rehearsals in a storage garage late at night, joining in for the precussion bits with drums, triangles and shakers.

the orphanage

We roadtripped past waterfalls, swimming holes, the Bourke’s Luck Potholes, and thru the Blyde River Canyon, taking countless selfies from all the panoramic views along the way. Later we went to Durban, visiting the valley of 1000 hills. We visited an orphanage, ate Indian food that tasted even better than food in India, and then went our separate ways, I, to Lesotho.

the chain ladder up to Tugela

Later I roadtripped with my South African host to Golden Gate National Park and the Drakensberg, where we frolicked inbetween and ontop of mountains, with stunning views down to the Irish-green valleys. The chain ladder up to Tugela Falls nearly gave me vertigo, but it was all worth it once we got to the top and went skinny dipping in one of the frigid pools above the falls – the world’s second highest.

On top of Lion’s Head, with Table Mountain in the background

I spent a week in Cape Town, including a day of wine tasting in Stellenbosch. I stayed in SeaPoint, and one of the roomates there had a horse we could giddyup. We spent our days beaching, or hiking at Newlands Forest and Kirstenbosch Garden. There was a swing dance festival kicking off my last night there, and lots of great coffee, wine, and food everyday.

My base for all these adventures was Johannesburg, which I had never really thought of as more than just a base. Its reputation for being a big, sprawling, dangerous city really changed when I got to spend a few weekends tieh locals, exploring the restaurant and nightlife scene. Neighbourgoods Market was a major highlight, a Saturday food and beverage festival where an old fried from UBC randomly sat across the picnic table from me. After giving eachother long, awkward glances (neither of use could remember eachothers names or just where exactly we knew eachother from – or if we were just doppelgangers), I finally asked where he was from, and answered ‘Vancouver’ in a perfect Canadian accent. Then our worlds collided as we remembered all the stories, friends, and parties from Totem, our residence dorm, 10 years ago. Small world, eh?

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A Chilean Wedding Reunion

My first good friend from UBC got married this year, causing good reason for a UBC alumni reunion of old friends and roomates. We all started our undergraduate degrees in 2004, as young, naive teenagers, far away from home for the first time. Now we’ve matured, grown up, moved away, gotten jobs, and for those as lucky as Stefan, found someone to share it with.

Stefan and Mane, the newlyweds

Stefan is a New Mexico native, born in Chile to American parents. He speaks Spanish and has a Chilean passport, so he decided to take his exchange semester from UBC in Santiago. We all took our exchanges in 2nd or 3rd year, many went to Australia or New Zealand, but not many dared to venture out to a non-English speaking university. Stefan extended his stay from one semester to a whole year, working in Portillo Ski resort and traveling through his birth country, and I was lucky enough to be backpacking through South America when he was still there. I visited Stefan in Santiago, only weeks after moving in with his girlfriend. Mane was also working at Portillo as the nurse, and Stefan had set his eyes on her the moment they met. I could tell instantly from the moment I met her that she was adorable, fun, smart, and confident. Stefan must have noticed she was a keeper, so he did exactly that, keep her.

the UBC crew

Ten UBC friends (plus one highschool friend and Stefans family from New Mexico) attended the wedding, which was held in Santiago – a long way to go for the Americans and Canadians. Though we were largely outnumbered by the Chilean guests and Mane’s family, we certainly tried to make up for it by being louder and more obnoxious. Apparently we drank the same amount of pisco as a wedding of 400 by the time 6 am rolled around and the party finished with the last 30 stragglers (all of Stefan’s foreigner crew still present).

Their wedding was held in the most beautiful setting, a place you picture only in romantic fairytale movies. When we arrived, a flock of peackocks walked past the small lake between the mansion and the stone church, and flowers and champagne glasses shone in the sunlight. Their ceremony was magical, with live music from family relatives, tears flowing from bride and groom, and 100+ guests dressed in their Sunday’s best taking pictures and throwing a rainbow of flower petals.

the view of Vina's coast

We spent some time together in Vina del Mar, on the top of a hill in a highrise building with an incredible view of the coast. We rented apartments in Santiago for 4 nights, drinking wine and coke and having completo hot dogs as all good tourists should. My highlights were the Fish Market and Pablo Neruda’s home-turned-museum, and the 6.1 Richter scale earthquake that hit us while on the top floor of an old apartment building. The whole thing shook, and we all looked at

a completo

eachother with a mix of confusion, panic, and even glee, while debating which door frames to stand under and who should get in the bathtub. Needless to say we survived, so a few days later we were on our separate ways, some going South to the Lakes Region, some going home, and I flew across the South Pacific to Easter Island.

2 weeks in Vancouver

As of late, my travel plans have been slightly more spontaneous than usual, since I was expecting to move to France, then substituted that with a euro trip for 3 months, then cut it 6 weeks short to go to Miami where I had 2 unrelated obligations. Then from Miami I basically flipped a coin between St. Croix or New York.

Heads. New York. But I didn’t really have anything to do in New York. But I did just find out my little sister got engaged, so I used it as a stop-over to get back to Vancouver. I could have just changed planes at JFK, but a few days in New York never hurts. I had some relatives, a best friend, and a friend who just visited me in Iceland who owed me some tourguiding hospitality. He lives in the financial district, a stone’s throw away from the World Trade Center Site, and works near Grand Central Station. My other friend there is a male supermodel. Both very clichéd Manhattan careers I’d say.

So Vancouver. I lived there for nearly 4 years but every year that passes since, going back to Vancouver makes me feel more and more like a visitor. With every visit, I know fewer people living there, as all my UBC friends graduate, get jobs, or marry elsewhere. Walking around the UBC campus makes me feel like an old creeper. Downtown even seems less familiar, with all the construction and development disguising familiar streets.

I don’t miss the rain, the long, dark, dreary nights, or how expensive it is to drive (parking, gas, insurance). But I miss the cosmopolitan feel of the city, the vibrant, young, international mix of faces you see, not to mention noticeably beautiful faces. I love the cheap, easily-accessible and readily available sushi everywhere. I love Stanley park, English Bay and the surrounding, snow-topped mountains. I really miss Whistler – the feeling of riding the gondola to the very top and knowing you can take up to 2 hours to get back down without riding another chairlift.

I spent my 2 weeks there wedding dress shopping with my sisters. Ruth didn’t know what colour her bridesmaid dresses should be until our second outing, and still came out with a slightly indecisive choice. “Off-white. Or cream. With or without a pattern. But no one should wear the same dress.” We didn’t get very far with that for me or my older sisters dress hunt, but she managed to find her dream wedding dress. It was a whopping $1200 plus 12% HST and $200 for a belt wrap. She didn’t feel right about the price, so instead bought 2 wedding dresses she liked a little less each, but in total only cost $150, and together, could tailor into something perfect.

During the day, every day, I worked with an old-time friend and long-time professional colleague, Yashar. He hired me full time to work as his campaign volunteer leader in the North Vancouver municipal elections. This job consisted of me sitting between 8 – 10 hours a day in an office where only other Persians worked, organizing his Farsi-speaking only parents to lead volunteer events, and then distributing a handful of about another 20 volunteers (also, all Persian) for random, miscellaneous jobs to help market Yashar as a city councilor. I realized how much I love Persian hospitality, and how alienating it is to be the only person not speaking the common language of your immediate surroundings.

I also spent quite a bit of time with a traveler friend named Murray, who calls me the girl version of him. We seem to lead parallel lifestyles, both insatiably wanderlusting, and irresponsibly quick to pack up and go at the flip of a coin. We lamented about how hard it is to keep relationships, but how inconsequential this seems when we realize how much we appreciate the lasting friendships travel has given us instead. We empathized how lonely travel can get, but without referring to any negative connotations of the meaning of the word. We wondered out loud how we stay so busy doing nothing, and joked about the endless moneytree that people seem to believe feed our travel funds. But, we concluded that our lives are somehow less expensive and more sustainable than our alternative life-options, and also decided we weren’t abnormal, since 2 people living the same lifestyle simply defines a different normality.

 

Life as part of the Working Class

It has been strange being in one place for almost a month now, just living and working like a settled local. I have managed to get two full-time jobs since returning to Vancouver, but still feel a little distanced from truly ‘localizing’ myself; the latest and longest memories of Vancouver have always been of my life at UBC, being on Campus all school year and enjoying the city as a starving student. Now, when I go to Campus, I feel strangely foreign, and even though noone else knows I am no longer a UBC student, there is this pang of ‘outsiderness’ that I feel walking around campus without a class to go to or a study group to attend. Even more bizarre is not living on or near campus, so when Im there, I feel like I have nowhere to belong, since my home refuge is gone, as well as a full time class schedule. I have also been coping with the reality that this is the first semester in 18 years that I am not going to school this spring; I have no classes to register, text books to buy, or homework to do. Very, very strange, but comforting. My master’s thesis is almost done too, so I’ve really got very little to do in terms of academic life as of now.

Being downtown is a bit more familiar, same scene, same people, same activities. I would still say I fit the starving student profile since Im tecnically still in grad school until I defend my thesis and officially graduate, but now I’ve joined the ranks of the working class to having that secure, 9 – 5, Monday to Friday Job, in addition to serving at a bar 4 or 5 nights a week. Working two full time jobs is exhausting, and all I have time to do is work and sleep. It’s great since I have no time to spend the money I am finally making, but paying off my upcoming trip and the debt I’ve incurred from both studying in the states and my obsessive cumpolsive traveling habit is a slow process. I have yet to see if I’m actually back to square 1, which would just be an account balance of $0, since my hourly paychecks lag a few days and are paid bi-weekly, but now I’m about to go off on a 3 week trip where Im sure I’ll quickly jump into the negative account balance again. However, not to worry, for after I return back to BC the Olympics are coming to Vancouver, and so are alot of people, all their money, and alot of work – all reasons why I (and my travel habit) may personally benefit from the games.