On riding…

The last couple of days have been absolutely great. Monday was our first motorcycle lesson with Tony, as was so well documented by Erin. I had ridden a moped in Cambodia and Laos a few years ago, and in Namibia I rode a quad-bike with a full manual transmission, so I was a few steps ahead of Erin in the game to start. This worked out very well because Tony was able to spend most of the double-lesson with her and let me get more comfortable with the bike.

I had a few friends with bikes who tried to explain to me the joy of riding, but it never really connected because I hadn’t done it myself. They talked about the exposure to the elements, the feeling of connectedness with the road and bike, the wind, the curve of the turns, but it just didn’t click. I don’t know how to properly explain it, but I feel like I finally understand. There is an intrisic beauty to taking a turn that a car simply doesn’t convey. I almost looked on the passing cars with regret or pity, thinking to myself that they didn’t understand what they were missing by being so detached from the driving experience. I’ve always preferred manual cars to automatic because the shifting of gears engaged me and forced driving to become a more interactive experience. The shifting quickly becomes second nature, but still the link is there much more so than an automatic. Riding a motorcycle was an incredible explosion of this difference, bringing every action to the forefront. There is no changing the radio station, eating a banana, answering a cellphone, nothing. The concentration required consumes all of my attention. The focus is oddly relaxing because of the simpleness of the task, but the immediacy of everything. I think that might be the best way I can describe it. I’m sure this feeling will recede as my comfort in handling the bike increases, but I doubt it will disappear. I hope not, at least, because that makes it so much fun.

On the open road

Wow, what a day! Todd and I had our second motorcycle lesson today. Todd found a guy named Tony on the internet and he seems like the best connection we could have made in the S. African motorcycling world. The man is a walking, talking encyclopedia of motorcycling information who is full of an overwhelming amount of enthusiasm for all things bike. As much as I tried to hide it, I was a bit nervous for the first lesson. Two wheels, open air, hard tarmac and loads of power didn’t seem like the most brilliant of plans for one with a short attention span and poor balance. Rest your worries, I remain in one piece.

Day 1 started in a parking lot outside of Cape Town next to an industrial park. Beautiful, scenery…oh yea, let’s not forget the major highway that was a short stones throw away. The parking lot must have been a driving school lot because there were all sorts of various vehicles learning how to maneuver around. We started on our badass 125cc Honda motorcycles, just enough power to get us started. First, we learned where everything was i.e. gas, brakes, kick stand, clutch, etc. Honestly, it all seemed rather confusing but with Tony’s enthusiasm and unexplained confidence in us we mounted our bikes (from the left side, it is the only side for proper mounting of a motorcycle apparently). And off we went to practice the rather tricky start and stop all the way around the parking lot. After one turn around, Todd with his previous biking experience advanced to turning, while I had another go around the lot. A little rough at first but all seems to have worked itself out unless I am very nervous in which case, as was today, I popped a wheely and instead of a stealth start, the bike flips over onto myself. Right side on pavement seemed to be my preferred crash landing. Luckily, a 125cc bike doesn’t weigh too incredibly much so I am still technically in one piece even if I cannot properly sit on my right buttock. We then advanced to shifting gears. Up the industrial rode we went to practise shifting. The sound of the revving engine and the slight grinding of gears were my first sign that I may again have hit a rough patch in my lesson. I was not to be discouraged! Off the road we went and back down the road we came. Only today did I figure out how to down shift properly. Crazy it is exactly like a car, downshift as speed decreases. It didn’t quite all make sense but after our ride today, all good. Day 1 was awesome! We celebrated with beer, pizza, and huge perma-grins!

Day 2, today, double wow. Tony felt that we progressed enough to hit the open road. I was not quite as confident, so again mild apprehension lingered in me. But again, minus a couple mishaps all was brilliant. So we meet Tony at his bachelor pad outside of Cape Town. A little weird, but seeing as Tony is our new best friend, we rushed over from Stellenbosch after a short day on the farm. The plan: ride around town and get comfortable on the bike through practical road experience. We forgot that it may be cold down by the sea so Todd and I show up in T-shirts and lo and behold, cold and windy by the sea. Tony was kind enough to outfit us in gear. I borrowed a badass, sorry for the continual use of this word but nothing else seems as appropriate when talking about my new biker chick feeling, leather riding jacket full with pads and tons of pockets. Todd got a fabulous early 80’s color stone washed jean jacket full on with the ballooning effect because of the tapering around the waste. Yes, I definitely looked way cooler. Yet, I was a tad envious of such an authentic piece of vintage wear. So we get our bikes, did I mention mine was black with purple and turquoise streaks, simply awesome.

As the garage door opened I began to feel a bit nervous. There ahead of me was a gigantic incline which was the only path leading to the street. Using my new found starting technique I peeled off. The start was not as poetic as I would have hoped. I made it barely half way up the incline with way too much throttle, a quick wheely, complete loss of control, and I was down. On my right side as I mentioned, stuck under the bike with less then 1 minute into lesson 2. Not the suave start I was hoping for but I rebounded like a champ and we were off again. Oh yea, Tony got the bike up the incline for me seeing as I was not up for go number 2. We rode around the neighborhood and it felt great. Everything from the first lesson seemed to come back and work fairly smoothly. Oh yea, T.I.A (this is Africa, a very common phrase here) we were on the left side of the road, so not only were we learning how to ride, it was on the wrong side of the road. We learned how to turn with caution, got a good feel for the road and then we hit the open road. Up to 70km/hr. My smile was wide, my hands were tense and my eyes were paying close attention to the road. What a great feeling! We rode through subdivisions, through town (good practice for stopping and starting and overall road awareness), along the open highway next to the sea. The smell of salt water tickled my nostrils with a gingerly passing. The scenery was beautiful. Tony took a quick right turn at one point. My speed and nerves caused me to pass the turn and come to a stop on the side of the road. I think I may have made a couple of drivers nervous. I bid my time waiting for the perfect opportunity to cross and finally I thought it had arrived. So I take off for what I hoped will be a perfect start to cross the busy road and not get hit or stall in the middle. It didn’t go so smoothly. Instead, my second wheely with crash landing, again right side, occurred. This time a woman got out of her car to make sure I was all good. I managed to pick up the bike in rapid time and brush off the second round of bruising for the day. After that, I was ready for the coffee Tony had promised us.

Two cups of filtered coffee later and my stiff body was back on a bike to finish out the day. We headed back to Tony’s. It was simply awesome to experience the open road. My mind kept thinking of our trip to South America. It finally seems to be a reality in my mind. Not just this hypothetical and hopeful biking excursion but an actual reality of something I am going to love. I cannot wait to ride again. Luckily, through new bf Tony, we have secured a bike for the rest of our stay here in South Africa. It will give us the experience we (I) definitely need and allow us to see more then Stellenbosch.

As I sit here typing this, I can feel my sore muscles starting to tighten. Todd has made us a yummy salad for dinner. Nothing like a garden at your disposal to get one excited to eat fresh greens all the time. My body is excited for the hot bath to come, yet dreading the soreness that I most definitely will experience tomorrow. Yet, I cannot wipe the smile from my face. Another new experience during my time in Africa. I have fallen hard for this continent and proved to myself I can do anything I put my mind to. A little over two months to go and I am so excited to see what each day holds. Tonight, I hope to dream of cruising on a motorcycle, without injury, through the vineyards of Stellenbosch.

Written on Sunday, posted today… Oops.

I believe I last wrote on Friday, describing the first week and the friends who came to visit. To pick up from where we left off, we went into Cape Town on Saturday with Natalie, the owner of Rozendal, because she was going to work the Go Green Organics Convention that was happening that weekend. She let us off at the convention center and we walked into the waterfront area to meet up with Vicky around 10am. Vicky had been working in Lilongwe, Malawi with my dad for a number of years and was heading home to return to the land of Oklahoma. This was here last hurrah in Africa so we decided to meet up with her to help the transition.

We met up at the aquarium and went straight to grab some coffee. She had been roasted the day before on the open-air double-story tour buses that roam around town. Malawi sun just isn’t as strong as it is here apparently. So we walked around the mall and marveled at escalators, air-conditioning, Birkenstock stores and everything else that comes with a first world city such as Cape Town. From the mall we went up to Long Street, the main shopping/restaurant in CT, where Erin found a long-desired pair of jeans at Woolworths. Then we saw a sign for nachos and bee-lined it for the restaurant to indulge in crappy cheese covered doritos. Our expectations were a little high. Apparently CT is still Africa. From lunch we headed back to the waterfront and hung out on the pier just talking about where she was going, where we were going, etc. Very enjoyable. To finish off the night, we had dinner at Bahia, a delicious seafood restaurant. It was one of the better meals I had in awhile. We finished up at the bar drinking delicious Guinness from the tap, which I now believe is the true sign of a modern city.

We left Vicky the next day so she could do her tour of Cape Point and fly out on Monday and we could head to the convention center, meet Natalie and start selling vinegar. Step 1) no problem. We walked to the convention center. Step 2) small problem finding Natalie, but after searching around we located her. Step 3) Big problem. How do you get people to drink vinegar at 10am? Because that’s how we sell it. We say, “Would you like to taste some vinegar?” We pour it in a tiny snifter and tell them to hold it in their mouths for 5-10 seconds while the vinegar “warms up in your mouth, rounding out the edges and releasing the floral bouquet that goes so well with salads, stir-frys, or cous-cous for instance. And it’s all organic.” We ended up with a number of key phrases that we must have repeated a thousand times from 10am to 6pm. But we sold quite a bit of vinegar and were pretty happy with ourselves.

The convention itself was really interesting as well given the huge variety of things that it encompassed. Everything from green building to solar water heaters, worm farms, nuts, teas, smoothies, makeup, massages and then the more interesting things including cosmology, transcendence, unicorns and other things I classify in the “out-there” realm.

The day after the convention we decided to hike up to Jonkershoek Nature Reserve to check it out. It’s actually a bit more of a hike to the entrance than we thought, so by the time we arrived at the gate, we only had enough energy to grab a map and turn right around to head back. There was a flyfishing area that we passed, but did not stop in. However, we did have exactly 70 rand in our pocket which is enough for a couple of wine tastings. On the same road as the nature reserve is Neil Ellis and Lanzerac, so we made sure to stop by both on our way back. 30 rand at Neil Ellis and 40 rand at Lanzerac means that we were in no danger of blowing our budget because we had no more money to spend there. But it was certainly fun to taste the different wines. To those who are interested, the wines of special note were the Lanzerac Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon and the Neil Ellis Stellenbosch Chardonnay.

Tuesday held a nice surprise for us. Instead of working on the farm, we would be working with the vinegar! We were both pretty excited about this and it did not disappoint. There is a vinegar cellar with about 80 250-litre oak barrels filled with various vinegars at various stages. The mother blend comes from a gigantic 3500-litre oak barrel in the center of the room, which they pump to the smaller barrels. In these barrels they add the flavours, such as carob, lavender, chili, peppadew, rosemary, rose geranium, etc. This is allowed to soak in and are then combined in specific ratios according to set instructions. 5 litres of carob, 5 litres of pappadew, a few barrels of grape must, and then mix it all together in a gigantic cooking pot. Then we pump it to another barrel where it ages until called upon. All in all a great day of new things.

The next event was Friday, when Neil and Ciara visited us a second time to spend the night. We decided that instead of heading to town, we would have a delicious braai (BBQ), spent the night devouring tons of meat and freshly picked salad, and generally passing the time chatting away. It was a great success and enjoyment to have them pass by again before they headed out.

Saturday we worked the market and sold vinegar again. It was a good time and the market was particularly interesting because of the amazing quality of the goods there. I wanted to eat so much of the samples, but I couldn’t because, once again, I had to get people to try vinegar at 10am in the morning. It’s quite difficult, but a fun challenge.

Yesterday we hiked up the mountain behind the farm. Although it only took us 3 hours roundtrip, it was one of the hardest hikes I’ve been on. Certainly more difficult and steep than hiking up Mulanje in Malawi. But the view from the top was absolutely fantastic. We could look around in 360 degrees to see the various vineyards and towns. We pointed out Kanonkop, Simonsig, and any other winery we could figure out. Table mountain was visible in the background and we could just make out the oceans on either side of it. Absolutely stunning.

To finish of the day, we walked into town to buy ingredients for salsa and then had a delicious lamb stew with Natalie and her boyfriend Carlo. Then we passed out hard from all the exhausting activity.

Today on the agenda: pick up a rental car, drive to Cape Town and learn how to ride motorcycles!

Complications of life cut by a butcher’s cleaver

Couple of quick additions to Erin’s post. Quad biking was great from my perspective. Erin ended up in the sissy-sally group and wasn’t allowed to have any fun, but I ended up in the group the took the Namib’s dunes straight, no chaser. There was an strange mix of fear and adrenaline coursing through me as I approached an incredibly steep dune at full throttle to see how high I could make it. Pulling fishtails in the sand, hitting jumps, just goinggoingoing as fast as we could make these things go through miles and miles of endless sand, then the finale of cresting a dune as seeing the ocean on the other side AH! just a great time. I felt bad that Erin didn’t have the same experience, but I certainly enjoyed my time.

Second addition to the post: I am starting to fully understand that farming will not be a lifelong occupation for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying the situation and finding a certain meditative calm in the direct and simple goals of the day. Pulling alien vegetation, making plant beds, pulling weeds, etc. It’s like the complications of life are cut by a butcher’s cleaver. Black and white, no shade of gray whatsoever. Is this a weed? Yes. Okay, pull it. How many wheelbarrows of compost does this need? Two? Okay, got it. The tasks aren’t particularly boring, but rather require a constant half-focus which allows your mind to wander wonderfully in ways that it hasn’t in years. Just having that much time to think is such a rare opportunity I am enjoying immensely.

On the other hand, while I might have used to complain about having to take a sweater to work in the summer because the air-conditioning was turned on so high, I am starting to more fully appreciate some of the other options. The idea of farming and the reality of farming quickly coalesce into one when the dirt simply won’t wash off no matter how hard you scrub. I think I will simply wait until I get back to the states and then wash my hands there. I don’t think it would make any difference.

The last couple of days have actually been quite busy with getting settled and being hosts (already, I know). Our two dutch friends, Rudy and Eva, joined us on Tuesday. Neil, Ciara, Max and Trix joined us on Wednesday, (the night the pictures in the bar are from) and Max and Trix stayed Thursday night and left this morning. Quite a number of guests for our first week, but it was great to see them all again before everyone from the overlander heads separate directions.

Lastly, we’ve put up some final pictures from the overlander, and also pictures from the farm in Stellenbosch. It’s called Rozendal Farm, and here’s the website for it if you’re so inclined. http://www.rozendal.co.za/.

Cheers,
T.

End of the Overlander and onto the farm.

A week has gone by since we arrived in Cape Town.  What a world of difference from East Africa; clean, modern, modern, etc. But we have been neglectent of the blog so I am going to start a little further back.

After jumping out of the plane I wasn’t sure if I would be able to find an activity that provided such a rush.  The afternoon after the jump, adreniline still pumping, we went quad biking aka atv on the sand dunes of the Namib Dessert.  Pretty neat to be able to ride up and down the dunes with nothing but sand all around.  Todd and I had much different experiences b/c of the bikes we chose; Todd 250cc clutch, me 125cc automatic (too small for the more powerful bikes).  So overall review…quad biking was fun for the last hour but not an activity to do after skydiving.

The next morning we decided to go sand boarding, snowboarding on sand.  Sand everywhere! Shirts, pants, ears, hair, everywhere.  At first I tried to keep the sand at bay but it was a losing bet given we were in the middle of the desert. We strapped in and headed down the huge sand dune.  The experience was bizarre because it is similar to boarding yet reversed and on sand.  I am still not good at either but managed to have a good time.  The rough part was the walk up the dune.  No fun.  At the end of the day we got a go at lie down boarding.  For those from snowy climates, sledding on sand down another monster dune called Lizzie (right next to Dizzie).  I can jump out of a plane but the first time down on the board was awesome and nerve racking all at once.  Face first plummeting down a sand dune.

I will save the best activity for last…Cage diving with great white sharks!!!  I felt like I was in a National Geographic documentary.  Sharks right there circling the boat.  We had a pretty big night with all the folks from the overlander the night before the dive, so the idea of spending four hours on a bobbing boat didn’t exactly seem like the most fun way to recover from a hangover.  Yet, we managed and with only two bouts of sea sickness.  I am proud to say all cookies stayed inside my stomach.  I may owe that to the overdose of sea sickness pills I took as a precautionary measure that morning.  So twenty of us on a medium size boat with a cage attached to the right side of boat.  Cage, 2.5ft wide by 6ft long and roughly 6 ft deep, so way smaller then I had imagined.  With no scuba equipment we were outfitted in beautifully still damp wet suits with booties and a face mask (6 shared amongst us all).  You would enter the cage and go all the way to the left, the end of the line.  Inside the cage we had a bar to hold on to about 4in from the main steal frame.  Not a lot of wiggle room.  They would yell “Down, Down, Down,” and we were to go under for about 5seconds look around and come up.  The water visibility was horrible so unless the shark was super close, within 3 to 4 feet, no sighting.  The first time around one shark just strolled right past the cage with a creepy sneer that revealed huge teeth and a watchful eye.  The thing was massive!  Then we got the cage rattled by another shark that apparently misjudged his distance from us and completely knocked into the left side of the cage.  Lucky me was the one on the end.  So round one, awesome but not super awesome yet.  I was debating a second go on the bow of the boat, still shivering in my damp wetsuit when a 4m shark cruised past the cage and aggressively charged the tuna head (visual bate) following it all the way to the side of the boat.  Tail thrashing, teeth snarling, water everywhere, people shouting, proper shark diving chaos.  That was the kicker…of course I had to get in the cage again.  I grabbed my place in the now long queue. Roundtwo…holy s**t!  Waiting, waiting, waiting nothing.  Then as I was about to give up on seeing something totally frightening it happend. The guy in charge of the bait drew the shark closer to the cage so close in fact his gigantic nose and teeth were poking through to the inside of the cage.  The cage seemed tiny to begin with but now it felt horribly tight and clausterphobic.  No room for shark noses.  I couldn’t figure out where to put my hands or how to push myself to the back of the cage. These things are hard under water.  And screaming doesn’t work either. We all popped out of the water ripping off our masks, screeching with excitement.  What a terrifyingly awesome creature.  So close I could have given him a butterfly kiss. I figured that was the perfect finish to my shark diving day, so I dried off and watched the last go in the cage, luckily nothing too great happend.

Shark diving was the last hoorah with the overlander group.  It was a great group of people but I am definitely enjoying being off the truck.  Saturday night after the shark diving we got picked up by Nathalie, our boss at Rozendahl Farm where Todd and I are farming.  That night we had a simple green salad with stuff from the garden, local cheese, olives and beautiful artisan bread.  After three weeks of a meat and potatoes diet, I could have kissed her I was so excited.  Fresh greens, heaven.  We probably sounded like exhausted babbling idiots as we gushed over the meal.

We have now been on the farm for a week.  My body is still getting used to the idea of manuel labor.  Three weeks on a truck driving too far everyday with nothing to do but eat crisps and other junk left me with weak lazy muscles.  But the work does feel good.  The vineyard is out of production, so now they use the old wine for vinegar.  The vinegar is fabulous.  We get to learn more about that next week.  I will keep you posted.  They also produce their own vanilla yogurt.  As a strictly Yoplait yoghurt girl I had my doubts, only vanilla no raspberry flavoring.  But, I was wrong.  This yoghurt is delicous as is the cream cheese.  Todd is loving the fresh unpasturized milk.  Basically straight from the cow.  I will take his word on it as I think my stomach would implode on straight milk.

In the mornings we spend the first hour and a half pulling alien tree species.  At first we just picked the little ones we could pluck by hand but we have now been upgraded to the big trees.  We either ring bark them or use the tree popper to pop them out of the soil.  I do feel bad killing so many trees, but they decided to grow in the wrong spot, so now they must die.  There are thousands of these trees so I think we will be busy for a while.  After that we have a short breakfast and then off to the garden.  It has been awesome to see Todd get dirty on the farm.  We are working on preparing the beds so we can get some plants in the ground.  So far we have radishes, carrots, and green beans growing.  For the sake of dietary balance I am excited for fresh veggies, lots and lots of fresh veggies.

The farm is stunning as is Stellenbosch as a whole.  Nice mountains on all sides with rolling vineyards everywhere.  There is a lot of wind.  Every night it sounds like our humble cottage is going to be blown away.  But so far so good.  I think I am going to really like it up here.

Biopic review of travels across the globe

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