Segovia and Central Spain

Dios mio! I have been in Europe for almost 8 weeks now and it has been the most fun/tiring/educational experience I could have imagined. I have visited 12 cities so far–mainly in Spain–and between school, weekend adventures, and planning the next portions of my Europe trip I haven’t had much time (or energy) for writing. But now that I have a spare moment, I’ve sat down in a cute little bookshop in Barcelona and want to attempt a recap of my time here so far, which will take a few posts, because it has been so wonderful and each place has had something so unique to offer.

Through both our program and our own planning my friends and I were able to visit some very beautiful and very historical sites in and around Segovia. Here are some favorites:

El Monasterio de El Escorial (The Royal Site of San Lorenzo):

This monastery was absolutely incredible and full of historical importance. It was built in the sixteenth century for King Phillip II and took 21 years to built, which is a phenomenally short time for such an intricate and large structure. It contains the most beautiful library I’ve ever seen, full of Greek, Hebrew, and Latin books and decorated with paintings of famous philosophers and celebrations of the liberal arts. I could have stayed just in the library for an entire day looking at all the art (and the thousands of books) but we went on to see a ton of tombs, including a room containing 22 Spanish kings and queens and their respective spouses. I tried to really grasp how significant those people’s lives were to the history of the world while I stood in that tomb, and it was quite a powerful moment.

The monastery of Santa María la Real de Nieva: 

This gothic-style Catholic monastery had a center plaza surrounded by arches covered in ornate carving representing symbols of the months of the year, the agriculture of Segovia, and different symbols of power and faith.

El Castillo de Coca:

Coca is a nearby small Spanish town that boasts a massive castle complete with a moat and tall lookout towers. The christian castle was full of spiral staircases and hidden rooms and viewpoints everywhere we turned.

El Palacio Real de la Granja se San Ildefonso:

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This royal palace, in the absolutely beautiful town of Granja, was the home of many Spanish kings and many famous weddings and religious ceremonies were held here. As in many of these places, photos were prohibited inside, but luckily the gardens were as grand as the castle. My friends and I also visited La Granja a second time, and after getting caught in a thunderstorm we spent an afternoon out into the forests, trying (and not succeeding) to find a river to swim. But the views and the company were well worth it.

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Valle of the Caidos:

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The basilica is built into the mountainside and features a massive cross on top.

My absolute favorite visit was to the Grand Basilica in the Valle of the Caidos, which the Spanish dictator Franco ordered built in order to “honor those who fell in the Spanish civil war.” But here’s the problem: many of those who built the massive basilica were political prisoners who opposed the dictatorship. So for obvious reasons, the building remains very controversial in Spain. Yet there is no denying how breathtaking both the valley and the architecture is. The interior of the basilica is unlike any of the other churches we have seen; instead of hundreds of ornate sculptures and paintings, it was dark, built of stone, and gave much more of a Hogwarts-esque vibe than a that of Catholic church. Franco wanted everything about the structure to be larger than life to make visitors feel very small and insignificant, and there is no doubt that he achieved that goal.

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Kait and me attempting our best Jesus and Mary impressions

These visits are just the beginning and don’t even include all our weekend adventures, but I will write about those in the next post.

During my time in South Africa I was constantly learning about myself. And although I’m pretty sure that I’m stuck with those introspective thoughts for the next few years (yay for the confusing 20’s), this trip has been much more externally focused and I feel that I am constantly learning about the world around me. Europe has this incredibly long and well-documented history that I admittedly know very little about, yet from my mini-vacation in London, my history and culture classes, and these various excursions I have already learned so much about this powerful continent.

Oh! And I also had a ton of fun. My time in Central Spain was full of friends, beers, tinto de verano (a fruity Spanish wine), frozen yogurt and tapas, which are all muy comun. The long days of sunlight, relatively stress-free class schedule, and late-night atmosphere made for some great memories. Of course, the hardest part of traveling is having to say goodbye, but thankfully, this time many of the friends I made actually go to Oregon! So I will see them soon. And as for my host family, there were lots of tears and hugs and besos the day I left. I can’t express how much their family meant to me–the love between them was a blessing to experience and I am grateful to have been accepted and loved by such wonderful people. I have no doubt that I will see them again. In the letter I wrote for them, I shared one of the quotes that has been so relevant to me this year:

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

I will be forever thankful for the time I spent in central Spain. Hasta pronto. ❤

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The door on the left leads to my home the last 6 weeks. It was a perfect little house that has belonged to my host family for generations. 
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The most wonderful host mom Pili–feat. cuchinillo, the traditional Segovian dish of roast suckling pig.

-Madison

Bienvenido a Segovia

Hola from España! I am settled in Segovia and it is fascinating. The city is small in comparison to other European tourist destinations, but I guess compared to Eugene even the small cities seem big to me. Although I still need to study the map and walk around a lot more, I understand my few routes to school and to mi casa really well, and I’ve started to venture off my paths in search of new places to explore and spend my time.

Segovia is a little mountain town in the center of Spain that was founded by Romans, so much of the framework here—streets, roads, buildings—is very old, very beautiful, and very dusty-looking. The defining feature of Segovia is the ancient aqueduct, which was built by slaves and has lasted more than 2,000 years. This serves as a kind of central meeting point in the city and it is visible nearly everywhere on the main roads. On the side roads, it’s also common to run into other ancient seminaries and churches; for example, on my walk to school every morning I know to turn left when I reach the San Martin Church, built in the 12th century. It is so strange to go about daily activities in the presence of such historical landmarks, but people here seem to do just fine.

Our professors keep repeating the locals here “live in the streets” and so far that has held absolutely true. The houses are small and seem to be only for cooking meals and sleeping, and the rest of your life—eating, socializing, big events—happens on pedestrian-only streets and in plazas throughout the city. Many of these activities also occur at night, so it’s not uncommon to eat dinner at 10 p.m. and then stay out at concerts and bars until 1 a.m. There are concerts nearly every night in the summer, and I believe it’s because they celebrate holidays for different saints this time of year. Then again, my comprehension rate is probably like 80%, so I could be way off on that one. I’ll keep you posted.

As for the language here, people here speak exclusively Spanish so there are opportunities for practice everywhere I go. I’ve been speaking or listening to Spanish nearly constantly since I’ve arrived and it is intense and definitely a little frustrating when I have something on my mind that I can’t express. However, it’s also a ton of fun and I can already see myself improving a lot, maybe not in grammar but definitely in confidence. I’ve started noticing that after a meal with my host family, a class, or wandering around the stores by myself, my thoughts start to change to Spanish as well, which is super exciting (and usually goes away if I fixate on it for too long). But it’s also really difficult to switch back and forth between languages, and this often results in a weird version of Spanglish that I noticed became much more prevalent on Saturday night after a few cervezas.

Despite the communication barriers, I am getting along with my host family so well. I live with Pila and Jesus on the outskirts of the city and they are the most wonderful and adorable Spanish couple ever. We eat meals and watch movies together, and I can join in on a lot of their conversations. They definitely slow down their speech a lot with me, which I appreciate. On Sunday they took me to their little farm outside the city that is complete with a garden, tiny house, and patio and we spent all day relaxing, siesta-ing, and eating ridiculous amounts of Spanish food.

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Speaking of which… The food here is soooo different and interesting. They adhere to a form of the “Mediterranean diet,” so there is a lot of fish, bread, olive oil, and (most importantly) wine. Some food highlights so far include chicken with cinnamon and honey, different types of seafood soup, bread and pork tapas, and really strong coffee after every meal. Meals I’m still uncertain about include fish omelets for dinner and potato salad with boiled eggs… and I’m also yet to try the suckling pig that comes out of the kitchen whole. And I mean whole.

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Beyond nightlife, food, and family, everything else so far is muy bien. The weather is awesome, my classes are super relevant to this experience, and I’m hoping to go on some really cool weekend excursions. Other random highlights so far have included taking a CrossFit class in Spanish (“allí Madison! Puedes hacerlo!”), having to mime the word “straightener” to multiple people in a convenience store, and dancing my heart out to Spanish music until 5 a.m. with a bunch of friends. So in summary, Spanish culture is treating me right and I can’t wait to get to know this beautiful place better in the next six weeks.

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Besos,

Madison

London

I made it to Europe! My program in Segovia, Spain doesn’t start until Friday, and it’s cheaper to fly into London, so during the planning stage I decided to spend a couple days here exploring before flying into Madrid. Plus, this is my third layover at London Heathrow in less than six months, so it was about time I left the airport.

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Because of time changes, I left PDX at 10:30am and arrived in London at 8:30am the next day. Although I definitely did not sleep more than three hours between then, I didn’t want to waste any time, so I pretended I didn’t notice that it was actually only midnight on the same day I left back home and started my day. After navigating public transport for the very first time (yay! It’s so well marked and organized that it was really easy) I checked into my hostel, dropped off my bags, and made a tentative game plan for the day. I was originally going to take the hop-on, hop-off bus like I did my first day in South Africa, but the hostel receptionist assured me it was better just to walk to avoid traffic and wow I am so glad that I did. By wandering around all day, my directionally-challenged self was able to understand the area way better than if I had been driven around. And getting lost a couple times helped me find some really cool little spots I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Also, my map-reading abilities have also noticeably improved.

I started off by walking from my hostel in the West End down the London Pavilion, past the bustling Piccadilly Circus, and into Westminster. There I saw Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, of which I took a billion pictures because I couldn’t wrap my head around the beauty, vastness and intricacy of the architecture, not to mention the huge amount of history associated with it.

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Then after going the wrong way (oops) and stopping at the Victoria Tower Gardens, I doubled back and went across the Westminster bridge. Here there was a rally going on advocating for voters to remove the UK from the European Union, set on the bridge to show solidarity for the fishermen that I assume fish in the Thames river. There were news reporters all over and so naturally, as a journalism student/politics nerd/nosy tourist I jumped in there and started taking photos of the member of parliament who was speaking to the press and asking questions to passersby. There are also all sorts of books and newspapers around here debating whether or not the leave the EU. It’s a really interesting and divisive issue–sadly, another member of parliament may have been killed this week over it–and I’m really looking forward to my class on the EU when I get to Spain.

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After that political excitement, I crossed the bridge into the South End and did The Queen’s Walk along the Thames river. This was so much fun and full of colors, street performers, food vendors, theatres (there’s some assimilation to English spelling for you), and street art. It was full of young people and tourists and I stopped in one inlet of shops for a lunch of coffee and pie (which is pot pie, apparently, and I got a confused look when I asked for clarification).

Refueled and recaffeined (recall my 3 hours of sleep) I finished up and walked across the Millenium pedestrian bridge to St. Paul’s cathedral. Ahhh this was so beautiful and grand and I love churches because they are always so quiet and peaceful inside. I peeked inside, which was even more beautiful, but with an admission fee and the thought of another 3 months in Europe I decided to pass on the full tour.

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Now on the other side of the river again, I took the Thames River Path down even farther until I reached the Tower of London. This side of the river was much less touristy and a lot more of modern business buildings and high-end apartments. It was such an interesting mix of old, ancient architecture and new, sleek designs.

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Okay, full disclosure: I didn’t actually know what the Tower of London was while I was walking there. And more full disclosure: I was again too cheap to buy the tour, so in order to find out I went in the gift shop for a solid half hour and read a bunch of their history books on the tower instead. Turns out it has a super interesting history (Beheadings! Lions! Unsolved murders!) and I was really glad I made the trek over there.

However… Because I had thought I’d be taking the bus (and also in an attempt to be as fashionable as the people here) I wore the absolute worst shoes to be walking for a solid five hours and my feet were killing me, so I used that as an excuse to splurge for a boat cruise all the way back down the Thames to where I began that morning. At this point I was more than a bit exhausted, so I sat in Jubilee Gardens next to the London Eye for a while, listened to this amazing street performer, and had one of those amazing moments of pure happiness and serenity that made the jet lag and sore feet about 1000% worth it.

I then went to dinner at a fancy-looking bar/restaurant place and had a lovely time by myself, although I think my waitress was convinced I had been stood up. And of course, I treated myself to a Hiver, which is honey beer made in London (yum).

To finish the evening I rode the London Eye. Originally I had planned on waiting until it was dark so that I could see the city lit up, but after realizing the sun wouldn’t set until like 9:30, I gave in to my tiredness and rode it earlier. The view was great, although I think the $30ish dollar ticket may have been more worth it if I’d waited until night. But I also think I’d be bummed if I didn’t ride it at all… All in all it was a long, wonderful day and I was happy to get into my little top bunk and pass out when I got back to the hostel.

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Today I woke up super early, trying to make it to the free 8am church service in St. Paul’s. Unfortunately I didn’t make it on time, but riding the Tube along with the hurried early-morning commuters was an experience in itself. (PSA: stay on the right side of the escalator if you’re not going to walk up it.) At this point it was only 8:05 am, and my carefully-laid-out plan for the day was already shot. So I sat down in the gardens around the cathedral and made a new one. It’s rainy and cloudy today, so it seemed like a museum kind of day (especially because I wore sandals… 0/2 for appropriate shoe choices here). And since museums don’t open until 10am, I’m now sitting in a little coffee shop in a big business district with my camera and maps spread out on my table, feeling very London-esque despite my extremely out-of-place North Face rain jacket and aforementioned sandals amid a sea of businessmen in fancy suits. But I guess feeling out of place (and learning how not to be) is all part of the experience.

Next on the agenda is the Museum of London and then (hopefully) the next free service in St. Paul’s at half past noon. Then on to the Warner Bros Studio to tour the set of Harry Potter and basically have my childhood dreams realized (no big deal) and after that my whirlwind tour of London will be complete! Best layover/start to the summer I can imagine.

-Mads

Update: The Museum of London was PERFECT and I’m so glad I went because I really had such little knowledge of the city itself and the exhibits were so well put together and thorough, starting from the geological formation of the area and ending in modern times. Although it’s hard to keep track of all the overthrown governments it gave me a much better sense of their culture and historical influences. Also, I bought a cute mug at the gift shop.

After the museum I headed back to St. Paul’s for attempt #2 at attending the church service. Success! Entry was free and I took part in a really beautiful service during which we prayed for countries divided by war–the priest mentioned Libya and Syria specifically–as well as the individuals affected by the migrant crisis, people providing aid around the world, and those whose innocent lives are lost or affected by senseless violence. We then took communion, and although I’m not Catholic, the feeling of coming together with a group of people from all over the world and sharing these intentions was really quite a special experience. Afterwards I was able to wander around the cathedral, which seemed to me just as much of a testament to British history as one to God. I didn’t take any photos (they discourage it) but the inside is as beautiful as it is fascinating; walls were lined with statues and monuments of British war heroes as well as significant members of the church, and a crypt downstairs was dedicated to all sorts of people and professions.

After St. Paul’s I gathered my luggage at the hostel (after getting lost again) and made my way out to Leavesten to visit the Warner Bros Studio where they filmed all eight Harry Potter movies. At the risk of sounding way too nerdy (in case my enthralling museum experience didn’t already give it away) I won’t go into detail, but I am not ashamed to say that I definitely shed a tear when we walked into the Great Hall. Also, I got some pity stares throughout the tour because traveling alone means you have to take a lot of awkward selfies while trying to get the cool stuff in the background. Oh, and I bought Butterbeer, which tasted exactly how I imagined. I also bought a themed bracelet, because #always. :’)

Aaaand that’s my whirlwind trip to London! I’m at a hotel right next to the airport tonight and I’m flying to Madrid super early tomorrow morning then making my way to Segovia, where I’ll be staying with a host family for six weeks. Estoy nervosa about the whole language immersion thing, but learning starts at the end of your comfort zone, or something like that. Okay! This time bye for real.

Tea and fancy blazers,

Madison

Option B

So a few days ago I was on my laptop attempting to do homework (keyword: attempting) when I came across Sheryl Sandberg’s recent UC Berkeley commencement address. The speech is 25 minutes and I had a paper to write… So naturally, I immediately watched the whole thing.

It was so worth not finishing that paper. Sheryl’s speech, much like Sheryl herself, was intelligent, passionate, and beautiful. Although she touched on many topics, the speech centered around the lessons she learned following the death of her husband, Dave Goldberg. Specifically, she discussed strategies for moving on after life’s setbacks. Her words were full of emotion and wisdom, causing me to simultaneously cry and take notes the entire time. My heart was so full and achey afterwards that I was inspired to write, which happens a lot, but this time instead of turning to my little Moleskin full of secrets I figured I’d share it here in case it helps someone else, too. So if you also have an essay to finish and have more self control than I do, here’s a little summary of the speech from my teary-eyed notes:

Sheryl began with a story about having to find an alternate plan for a “father-son activity” that Dave would not be there to do. She had broke down to her friend Phil, sobbing that she just wanted Dave. Phil (who sounds like the type of friend everyone needs in their life) responded by simply stating, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”

Kick the shit out of option B.

At this point in my life, that phrase really struck a chord. Sheryl’s point in telling that story was that we all, at some point, will live some form of option B. And the only thing we can do at that point is ask ourselves, “What do we do next?”

Luckily, she had some advice for answering that question. For Sheryl, the next action step (and I looove action steps) was to address and overcome the “Three P’s”: Personalization, Pervasiveness, and Permanence.

Personalization: the belief that what has happened is our fault. In order to overcome this, we have to recognize that not everything that happens to us, happened because of us. Sheryl also stressed that this is different from taking responsibility, which is a very positive thing; acknowledging our own mistakes is an important aspect of self-growth and making improvements in the future. But coming to peace with the fact that not everything is under our control (which can be difficult for me to accept) can be extraordinarily freeing.

Pervasiveness: the belief that an event will affect everything in your life. For this concept, Sheryl gave another example. In the immediate aftermath of Dave’s death, she described the familiar feeling of having “nowhere to hide from your all-consuming sadness.” Yet she was advised to return to work as quickly as possible, and as she sat in one of her first meetings back, feeling miserable, she briefly found herself engaged in a conversation. And for a split second, she forgot about the pain she was enduring. Every time we engage in the things we are passionate about–whether it’s work, a hobby, a class–we are taking a conscious step, even if it it’s brief, out of that all-encompassing gloom.

Permanence: the belief that the sorrow will last forever. Sheryl describes this one very well: “We’re sad, then we’re sad that we’re sad.” I feel that, Sheryl. For this one, her advice is simple: know that your feelings won’t last forever.

Beyond the Three P’s, she gave a few other pieces of wisdom that put a smile on my now-mascara-streaked face:

  • Think of how things could be worse, and find gratitude.
  • Before you go to bed, write down three moments of joy you experienced that day (I’ve been trying out a variation of this, and as a result have found myself more aware of moments of joy as they occur throughout the day).
  • Celebrate birthdays.
  • Appreciate love of family and friends.
  • We are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. It’s a muscle, and we can build it up and draw on it when you need it.
  • When we see things that are broken–and we will see things that are broken–go fix them.
  • “Live with the understanding of how precious every day would be if you only had 11 left… because that is how precious every day actually is.”

Anyone else teary yet? This speech was so timely in my life and I am so grateful for role models like Sheryl who share their perspectives with the world. Yes, life happens, and things do not always (or even usually) unfold the way you expect. You may fail a class, experience discrimination, not get accepted to your latest dream job, or even lose someone or something that was a foundation on which you built your life.

Although I have been fortunate enough to have not yet experienced a loss as deep as Sheryl has, this year has been by far the most confusing, eye-opening, and sobering of my life. (Disclaimer: I recognize that I haven’t experienced that many years in general.) Yet after this crazy year, I don’t feel beaten down by or pessimistic about the world. More realistic, maybe, but not in a disheartening way. And that is because I realize there are so many beautiful, noble things to focus on in the world. Sheryl’s final message said it best:

“Build resilient communities. We find our humanity, our will to live, and our ability to love in our relationships to each other. Be there for your family and friends… and I mean in person, not just in a message with a heart emoji. Lift each other up. Help each other kick the shit out of Option B. And celebrate every moment of joy.”

Love you, Sheryl. Love you, confusing/sad/amazing life.

-Mads

 

 

“I’m so happy”

It has now been over two weeks since my time in Cape Town came to an end. It seems like this winter absolutely flew by, yet so many memories and friendships were created in those 11 weeks that somehow it also feels like I was there forever.

Now that I am back in the land of sofas on front porches and rain and sunshine within fifteen minutes of each other I have been able to reflect on my time abroad more clearly, just like I could do with my life here while I was in Cape Town. When people ask me, “How was your trip?” I am tempted to sit them down and talk for hours about the adventures and the laughs and the pickpocketers and the sunsets, but instead I’ve settled on a more concise answer: that my trip was amazing. That the best parts were the people and hikes, that we went on adventures every chance we got. And all of that is so true, but there are many other subtle things that made this winter (technically summer) so important.

On a personal level, the most surprising and rewarding part of this experience was not “getting out of my comfort zone” but instead was, by the end of the trip, finding myself relatively comfortable in any zone I came across. On an academic and professional level, I have never been more confused… But in a really, really positive way. In Cape Town the work being done was important, but so was relaxation, enjoying meals and conversations, asking questions and listening to the answers, and seeking out beautiful views and adrenaline rushes. A sign in the city reads, “Slow Down, It’s Cape Town” and for a planner and an organizer like me–I literally have a file on my computer called ’10 Year Plan’–this proved to be quite a challenge. This isn’t to say I lost motivation or passion for a cause; on the contrary, I am now even more excited to continue exploring the niches that interest me. But I did better come to terms with the fact that passions (and plans) change, priorities shift, and that there are a lot of ways to define personal success that have little to do with quarterly earnings. I feel much calmer since returning home and although I have still been consulting my ‘Official four year plan’ document, the 10 year plan remains unopened because I trust that working hard while following my interests and moral compass will open up opportunities of which I may not even be aware yet.

I have mostly refrained from commenting on South African culture specifically because I know that I am not nearly qualified or experienced enough to make generalizations. I also recognize that every country has unique problems and rich histories and influences that contribute to these problems. So all I will do is speak from my own experience and say that I so deeply appreciated the diversity of languages and cultural influences in the city; the open, direct, and genuine nature of the native Cape Townians I met; and the laid back, artsy, friendly atmosphere of Obs.

There really is no way to summarize these three months and the best aspects come from the little details that don’t get immortalized in photos or blog posts. But if I were to make some sort of word cloud for the most popular catchphrases of the trip, I believe it would include:

  • I don’t have wifi so I can’t order Uber
  • I don’t have wifi so I can’t find my Uber
  • What do you think of Donald Trump?
  • Aren’t you supposed to be good at beer pong?
  • Never have I ever…
  • We are the champions
  • You really Dutch-ed up that sentence
  • We are out of feta/avo/rocket/all greens/nail polish
  • Are we going now-now?
  • We’ll leave in 5 “Cape Town minutes”
  • I’m almost 20
  • Let’s go to Long Street
  • Let’s go to Stones
  • Your ankle still hasn’t gotten better?

And much, much more.

But I think the phrase that I repeated the most, much to the amusement of my friends, was one that applied to nearly every situation, adventure, and new thing we tried: “I’m so happy.”

I was happy every time I woke up in my tiny prison cell of a room to the birds chirping and sunny 70 degree weather. I was happy when I ordered a chai latte and quiche every morning at the cafe next door. I was happy to receive texts in our roommate group message planning our next adventure and to come home from work to a house full of life and laughter. I was happy to see myself changing and learning how to be alone. And I was happy to try anything and everything that was new to me, whether it was finding a new hike, trying new foods, going to a karaoke bar, or jumping off cliffs, bridges, and planes.

My next mountain to conquer is 10 weeks of school and work before I leave the States again. (I promise I do like it here too!) This summer I am headed to Europe for some studying and some fun (perhaps not in that order), so for now I will bask in the planning that needs to be done for that and hopefully do some homework along the way. And I am content in knowing that I now have friends from all over the world, four thousand photos, a tattoo (sorry mom), and three months of memories to remind me of the most valuable time in my life so far. And for that, I’m so happy.

-Mads

Finishing Strong

I spent my last couple weeks in Cape Town making sure I checked everything off my to-do list, and I’m happy to report that I was fairly successful in doing so.

After 2 months of Clifton and Camps Bay I finally ventured out to multiple new beaches:

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Although we originally planned on going to swim with glowing plankton (casual, I know) the group I drove with got a little lost so we “settled” for just watching sunset here. The view was unreal and we did end up seeing the plankton that light up when you touch the sand, which was definitely very unique. It was so nice that I actually ended up going there twice more after that.

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Oudkraal 

This was an underrated gem outside of Camps Bay, but that might have to do with the fact that it costs money to enter because it is in Table Mountain National Park. Camille, Dave, and I were the only ones on the beach and we spent a quiet afternoon talking about life. Those conversations definitely became more frequent in the last couple weeks as we each began processing our time here.

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Llandudno

After visiting Hout Bay market a final time (where I finally started to souvenir shop!) Pam, Camille, and I watched sunset with wine and enjoyed our last few days together.

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Sister Syd paid a visit last week and I was so excited to see her! We went horseback riding on Noordehoek, another thing I’d been dying to do, and it was so fun hearing about her Semester at Sea program and comparing our experiences this past few months. Also, we learned that neither of us is very good at riding horses.

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Speaking of animals….

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This little guy purred the whole time we pet him and was so so cute. I just wanted to hug him… Definitely a highlight.

Aaaand…

 

We spent one of the last Sundays in Gansbaai, the great white shark capital of the world, about two hours out of Cape Town. After an orientation we went out on the boat, got into our gear, and the crew began to chum the water. Shark cage diving is a bit controversial, and I can see why, because there were so many boats out at the same time pouring a mix of water, blood, and crushed fish into the ocean to attract the sharks. Once the sharks come they bait them with huge fish heads on a rope, which they pull toward the cage when the sharks try to bite because they aren’t technically allowed to feed them. The issue is that chumming the water in such large quantities presumably interferes with the sharks’ natural feeding patterns and by extension, the ecosystem they exist within. The opposing arguments I’ve heard come mainly from the fact that shark cage diving is a hugely popular tourist activity that pours so much money into the local economy and that the sharks may not have even survived if they weren’t getting food from the boats (thanks for that one, Sydney’s marine bio professor).

Ethical implications aside, I spent about a half hour in the cage and that was plenty of time for me. We saw six sharks in total, with the largest at 3.5 meters (almost 11.5 feet). Once they get close the guide yells, “Go down!” and those of us in the cage hold our breaths and hold ourselves underwater for a better look. While in the cage I thought why do humans do this to ourselves? which has been a common thought for me in Cape Town. But I guess I really do know why; whether it’s bungee, skydiving, reaching the highest peak of the mountain, or shark cage diving, the rush of adrenaline and clarity of the moment have been so worth the fear.

Other items on my shrinking to-do list mainly consisted of fun places to eat, drink, and enjoy my remaining time with the people here.

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Triggerfish Brewery

Devil’s Peak Brewery

Afternoon tea at Mount Nelson Hotel

We also spent Esther’s last day touring District 6, which has a really interesting history of oppression through Apartheid and rebuilding in recent years.

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And last but not least…

During my first week here I made a note to myself that I would never forget to appreciate the mountains that shelter the beautiful city of Cape Town each day. Their enormity and natural beauty are such juxtapositions to the busy city below them and give literal meaning to “mountains beyond mountains.” (Look at me, finding the connection and greater purpose and such.) With that in mind, I knew I could not leave Cape Town without climbing all three of the major peaks, and this was one of the final and best things I was able to do in Cape Town.

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Table Mountain with the best
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Polaroid of Devil’s Peak because my camera may or may not have been stolen from my luggage in Joburg…

My big goodbyes came right in a row last week, with some leaving for home and some for Namibia. I know I’ve said it a million times on here (and I might mention it again) but I value the connections I made here so incredibly much and am so happy to now have friends from so many different places.

For the sake of organization I will end this post here because I mainly wanted to summarize my last couple weeks. I’m currently on hour 20 in a plane coming home and there are a million more thoughts, reflections, and sentiments swirling around my head but I think I’ll give it a couple days to settle.

-Madison

Miriam Takes Africa

One of my favorite things in life is seeing worlds collide. When my mom showed up in Cape Town it was a completely surreal moment and I couldn’t believe that a piece of home was standing right in front of me. I was so excited to show her around and we didn’t waste any time getting started.

When she arrived we drove to Obs and I was finally able to introduce her to all the lovely humans of 89 Station Road. Her enthusiasm for Obs was clearly not as strong as mine (possibly due to the fact that she discovered I live in a barb wire-protected house under a bridge) but she absolutely loved my roommates and commented multiple times how she wants “to parent them all.” Haha.

After returning to Green Point went to Marco’s Table, a restaurant right under our hotel, where we shared a bottle of South African wine and a constant stream of conversation that covered basically every topic you can think of. In the spirit of South Africa we also ordered springbok appetizers and ostrich fillet entrees.

On Wednesday we ditched the original waterfront plans (classic Cape Town) and decided to go to Table Mountain instead, which turned out to be an excellent choice. After taking the cable car to the top we were greeted with a one-in-a-million sunset over the ocean. It was such a happy moment for us and a great way to start our adventuring.

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It turns out my mom and I are a planning dream team, and we packed a bit of everything into the next few days.

On Thursday we hiked Lion’s Head:

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And in the evening I had to give her the real Obs experience by taking her to the Thursday night beer pong tournament at FOREX. It was so cool to see my mom bonding with the people I love here, and it was even cooler when a guy on the dance floor pulled me aside and said, “Your mom is hot!” All in all, it was an excellent night.

Friday I signed us up for a van tour at the suggestion of a roommate whose mom had also visited (thanks Pam) and I’m really glad I did because we hit so many of the highlights of Cape Town in one day (while exerting minimal energy).

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Our visit (my second) to Cape Point confirmed that is it one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen here.

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Boulder’s Beach! More penguins than last time.

And a last stop to Kirstenbosch Botanical gardens.

After our sight seeing-filled day we were dropped off at the V & A Waterfront and were just in time for a sunset champagne cruise on the water. This event was high on both of our to-do lists and it did not disappoint.

The next morning we woke up, had coffee in the sun, packed our things and headed for the airport. From there we flew to Port Elizabeth, which is a bit further on the garden route than Plettenberg, and headed off to a safari for the weekend!!

Mom found us a super cool game reserve called Amakhala about an hour outside Port Elizabeth. The accommodation there is supposed to resemble the camps of the 1920’s “early safaris,” so we stayed for two nights in canvas tents lit by lantern at night. There was running water and a working bathroom and shower, but that was the only “modern” amenity and it was so fun living by the sun and being out of wifi for a couple days.

We were on safari for two days and went on two night drives, one morning drive, and one morning nature walk. I really didn’t know what to expect from a safari, seeing as I’ve only visited zoos, but this was SO much cooler than I had even expected. In the reserves (Amakhala also partners with Shamwari, so we split our time between the two) you are not watching animals in cages, but rather observing them participating in their own ecosystem. This meant watching a lion hunting a warthog, harems of kudu grazing in our path, hippos playfully fighting in the river, and much, much more. The safari guides were wonderful and we had some really amazing close encounters with the animals (and in the cases of the rhinos and elephants, a bit too close).

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On Monday after the morning nature walk we flew back to Cape Town. I got a bit emotional inside walking into the domestic arrivals, because it seems like so long ago since the day in early January when I stepped off the plane in Cape Town, alone and without a clue what to expect of my next few months.

For our last night we went to Stellenbosch, which is wine country about 45 minutes out of the city. We spent the evening doing a wine tasting and then had a wonderful dinner in our hotel during which we had some really special conversations that can only be had between mother and daughter.

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And on the topic of mothers… The night ended on a much more somber note when we received a call from our family at home. My grandmother Pauline, my mom’s mom, passed away earlier that evening at the age of 92. Pauline was such a strong and caring woman who touched the lives of so many people around her, and I am lucky to have had her as my grandma. Of course, hearing this news was incredibly difficult for myself and my mom. As we processed the news together that night my heart ached as I thought about the bond between a mom and a daughter, and I thought for the 100th time this trip how grateful I am to have a mom like Miriam in my life.

We took it easy the next morning, reflecting and resting and packing our things to head to our respective homes. We returned to Obs so that my mom could say goodbye to my roommates and then she left for home, 23 and a half hours of flying away.

I continue to be amazed by the passion and energy my mom has for life, and as I get older I am starting to recognize and appreciate similar qualities appearing in myself as well. The running joke in the Rasmussen household is that my mom isn’t allowed to complain about all of Miranda’s and my big plans for life, because it’s her fault we make those plans. This trip together was such a blessing for me and I love to see how our relationship is evolving as I start to live more and more of my own life.

This post comes a bit late because after Mom left I became acutely aware of my impending departure from Cape Town and have been trying (and succeeding!) to fit in the last few things I wanted to do here before I leave. My experience in Cape Town has been so complex and important and it will take me a long time to express all that it has done for me. For now, I am trying to take in all in and enjoying my last few days in this wonderful place.

-Madison