Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ninja post: I'm in Grahamstown now!

Well, the heading pretty much sums things up. In a surprise move, I am suddenly not in Cape Town. I snuck onto a Grahamstown-bound bus last night and have pitched up at the small university town just in time to wish my brother a happy birthday. Boy, I've missed this place.

So anyway, I spent most of my Friday at the Design Indaba Expo, and the rest of it on a bus. The former was absolutely amazing -- the latter much less so. If you're interested in design (and haven't checked the expo yet), I suggest you haul your ass over there by Monday and check it out.

Anyway, that's all for now. I'll write a more detailed account of the Indaba once I get settled down here and actually have time to blog. It's a madhouse at the moment.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A visit to UCT

The University of Cape Town is supposed to be one of the finest institutions in the world, or something like that. While I'm not particularly interested in going into a diatribe about academic merit and all that boring rot, I will say this: it's a very pretty place. The upper campus possesses that delightful mixture of aesthetic and function that you'll only find with older architecture, and most of the paved pathways and side roads offer some truly astounding sights.

Here's an example of the Green Vine Monster devouring parts of campus that it deems unworthy.

Of course, it's the students that make the University, and I was fortunate enough to arrive on campus while they were holding their annual “RAG Olympics” – a charity event that involves students getting bruised, dirty and stupid. You know, the sort of stuff that all future leaders are good at.

The crowd bays for blood. Or maybe alcohol.

The Olympics entailed such noble events as stair racing (sliding down the Jameson stairs on a cardboard toboggan), trolley racing, tyre hopping and – of course – the mandatory downing of some sort of disgusting liquid. It was quite vibey and pretty impressive, not least because there was a promo crew hanging around and giving away free ice cream. I could get used to this sort of thing if I was a student here.

I spent a bit of time in the plaza being a great big show-off and juggling for the nearby students. Then I went to grab something from the food court at a nearby campus block known as Cissie Gool Square. This was awesome for two reasons. One was that the name was pronounced “sissy ghoul”, which is just plain rad. The other neat little tidbit about this place was that it was a freaking miniature mall complete with shops and outfitters.

After studying at a place like Rhodes University , with barely over 5000 students to its name and situated in a tiny town, I find the idea of another institution's food court dwarfing our entire social quad to be rather frightening.

They. Have. A. TELEVISION.

So after feeling like a small-town hick for several hours, I decided enough was enough and headed back home for some R&R (catching a Jammie Shuttle because, again, the varsity is just too damn big to walk across). A word to the wise: as hippy and nature-loving as it may seem at first to prance about barefoot, don't ever do it during a hot summer day. And if you do, stay away from the roads. The mutinous, blistery mass that was once my feet can testify to that. Never again, I tell you.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Super bonus extra: El Rondo the juggler

I found a lot of cool stuff at the Waterfront yesterday, but I have to say that the highlight of my trip was the run-in with El Rondo.

Haaaai there, El Rondo!

El Rondo is a devil stick juggler, and I first met him last year at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival where he sold me two sets of devil sticks . I consider myself quite the enthusiast – for the past few months, I've been working with them rather diligently and now have a few simple tricks that I can pull off to impress laymen. There's something almost meditative about stick-wielding, and it's awesome to watch a professional going at it. If you're not convinced, then I urge you to have a gander at this vid of El Rondo in action:

No, there aren't any magnets involved. Seriously.

We chatted for a while about various things, and I even had a chance to show him a few of the moves I'd learned since our last meeting. Seeing El Rondo again – by pure random chance, no less – was pretty damn awesome. This guy is something of a living legend in my books, and there's a chance that I'll run into him again as I travel around the country this year. I look forward to our next meeting.


After deciding yesterday afternoon that I would never forgive myself if I left Cape Town without first visiting the V&A Waterfront, I hopped onto a train and made my way to the city centre.

Even in the midst of a big, smelly, crowded urban environment, Cape Town still somehow manages to feel colourful and coastal. I guess this is due to the proximity of Greenmarket Square to the train station. Greenmarket is basically an enormous craft market in the middle of Cape Town's CBD, with a concentrated nucleus of stalls in the square itself and a whole bunch of peripheral barrows lining the surrounding walkways and side roads. It's delightfully atmospheric.

I call this “the gauntlet”.

Unfortunately, the market is a bit of a tourist trap - to the exclusion of all else. Yes, rows and rows of African carvings, masks and random jewellery may intrigue foreign consumers, but there's not really much for a domestic traveller to look at. Not to mention that most of the stalls quite literally sell the same cultural doohickeys as all of the others do.

No, seriously: it took me about five minutes to realise that the vast majority of establishments had identical siblings scattered around the market. It's like they pushed a bunch of gimmicky crap into a cloning vat somewhere and accidentally sent every single copy to Cape Town. Not much variety, but I guess that's the sort of stuff that holiday couples adore. And it probably keeps the store owners afloat, too.

I found the Waterfront to be far more impressive.

One of the Waterfront hotels. I guess rich folk like the smell of fish.

The Waterfront is a pretty big place full of shops, craft markets and lovely photo opportunities. And since it's such a huge tourism spot, you'll inevitably run into a nice variety of interesting folk. Most of them will be asking you for money, of course, but it's a refreshing change of scenery and there's a lot of stuff for the dedicated sightseer to get up to.

I could blab for ages about the activities, events and shops at the Waterfront, and that's only counting the stuff that I actually saw. Lamentably, however, I had only the lesser part of an afternoon to take in all the sights and splendours of the Waterfront. I'm not one for doing the same thing twice when there's so much to experience out there, but I'm seriously considering the idea of heading back again on Friday after I swing by the Design Indaba Expo.

And now, a final related snippet for this post: what's the deal with the no-cameras policy everywhere? Half the places that I visited today had some sort of issue with photography, and the budding journalist in me died a little every time I was told to put my camera away. Of course, I managed to revive it a little here and there by taking pictures on the sly. I totally rebelled against authority, yo.

This one's my favourite.

So yeah. Pretty eventful day. Methinks I'm going to write some more about the Waterfront when I head there again.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Claremont Capering

I'm not much of a driver. I've only ever taken two lessons in my life, after which I kinda just lost interest in the whole licence spiel and went right back to walking everywhere (I was living in Grahamstown, after all). As a result, I still find it fascinating to explore even the most arbitrary and commercial areas of Cape Town with the help of its lovely train system. And with this particular outlook, I hopped on at Mowbray Station yesterday to explore the suburb of Claremont.

Not the most famous tourism spot, but I'm getting kinda sick of the mountains anyway.

Claremont is full of shopping places, eating places and living places. It also has a bunch of flats and office buildings, most of them rubbing shoulders with (or simply sitting on top of) a whole truckload of random commercial establishments. Everything feels quite jam-packed, but I suppose that isn't too bad when you have to reach everything on foot. I ended up finding quite a few interesting locations, and even snapped a pic of this curiously-named hair salon:

This was about a block away from Adult World, so at least they got their location right.

Aside from the oodles of random establishments within the area, there's also two major centres: Stadium On Main and Cavendish Square. Since Stadium On Main has a no-cameras policy (what's up with that?) and a pretty crappy Website, I'm simply going to waffle about Cavendish instead. Besides, the latter has freaking touch-screen store directories.

A freaking touch-screen store directory™.

Cavendish is rather big and has pretty much what you'd expect from any major shopping centre: electronics, food, clothing and the occasional esoteric retailer hiding in the corners. What intrigued me was the layout - the mall was literally cut in half by a street market, with permanent stall set up to allow merchants to sell some fleamarket goods. Location-wise, it's actually a brilliant plan that exposes businesses to traffic that may not otherwise stumble by.

Cheap plush toys and wireframe art are the way of the future.

I ended up spending the entire afternoon in Claremont, after which I victoriously marched into the local Shoprite, grabbed myself a few groceries and headed back to the train station to get a rush-hour ticket home.

Oh dear.

See, until then I'd only ever boarded trains during off-peak times. It's admittedly a bit slow: sometimes it takes ages for a train to arrive, but if you strike it lucky and show up at the right time you'll be able to board almost instantly and enjoy a comfortable trip back.

I'd heard that trains came far more frequently during commuter hours, so I was looking forward to a quick 4:45 ride back to Mowbray and hopefully a nice hot supper within the hour. I was soon confronted with the hideous reality: trains literally full to bursting and seas of tangled bodies quite honestly forbidding further boarders until a handful of passengers decide to spurt out onto the next platform. In this way, the Cape Town train system is kinda like South Africa's version of the Large Hadron Collider: a huge acceleration system on rails with the potential to create superdense singularities from a squished-up mass of passengers.

After seeing one or two of these jam-packed trains pass by, I decided to suck it in and try clamber onto the next one that arrived. Long story short, I got onto a carriage about five minutes later after bribing my way on board with a litre of milk.

Then it turned out that I had to lean outside the train while frantically maintaining a hold on the door frame as though my life depended on it. Dearest reader: I may talk rubbish on this blog from time to time, but I'm being absolutely serious about this one.

It's kinda scary just how accurate this drawing really is.

Unfortunately, I couldn't whip out my camera to take a picture of this daredevilry. It had something to do with me maintaining a white-knuckled grip on both the train door and my shopping. Needless to say I was quite relieved when I had the opportunity to clamber off a few stations later.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Gotham: darkness, despair and cheap drinks

Before I talk about the neat little goth event that I attended on Friday evening, I need to mention one thing: Cape Town has proven thus far to be remarkably incestuous. I don't mean this in the way that siblings are suddenly giving each other sly winks and funny looks (at least, I've not seen it first-hand), but the number of cases where Jonny happens to know Jimmy, the man next door who's currently dating Sally (a naughty little fox who once had a fling with Jonny's stepbrother) and is best friends with Robbie – being thus indirectly linked to Robbie's brother who showed up on Jimmy's doorstep last night for a party, and whom Harry (who was staying overnight with Jimmy at the time) recognised vaguely from a meeting in Gauteng six months ago – is getting kinda insane, especially once Harry invites Robbie over and discovers that Robbie has brought along Harry's long-lost cousin. And cake.

Long story short, the amount of people who know other people through the most absurd of coincidences is really streamlining introductions at the parties. The interconnectedness of the social web here seems to be rivalling that of Grahamstown.

Pictured: Approximately half the population of Grahamstown.

Now, on to Friday night. Because of that oh-so-special link to my friends (“that guy from Durban who is crashing in their flat for a while”), I managed to crack an invite to a 21st birthday party thrown for somebody who I didn't even know existed until Thursday morning. After learning the birthday boy's name off by heart, studying his Facebook profile and rifling through the documentation that the CIA held on him, I did a merry little hop-and-skip to the celebration – a house braai with a gothic theme.

Our Barbeque of Despair. My Boerewors of Torment is waiting on the side.

Okay, it wasn't seriously goth, but people made an effort to wear black clothing and a few spikes here and there (except for those silly gits in white t-shirts, that is). I was delighted to discover that the party had a considerable geek population – a far cry from the jock-strewn, pop-collar fest that I'd feared the moment I heard the utterance, “This guy is turning 21 and having a party.”

While hob-nobbing at the braai, I discovered that we were to head off to a goth club after our meal. My oh my! And not only were we to be guests of honour at the establishment known as Gotham but it turned out that the entire club had been booked out solely for our party group. Totally kickass.

Of course the picture's dark! It's totally goth!

Gotham is situated in Observatory, just next to the Gandalfs night club (a club themed around Lord of the Rings – just how awesome is the night life in Cape Town?). It occasionally caters for events and themed nights – hence our ability to book – and sports a vibey atmosphere that makes for a welcome change from the ubiquitous evening haunts of preppies and poppies. And, as my one friend insisted on repeatedly pointing out, you can get yourself a double brandy and coke for only R12,50. I'm no authority on these matters, but apparently that's rather cheap. Either that, or my poor companion was just a little too drunk.

The music lineup that evening wasn't exclusively goth – it was from the birthday boy's personal playlist instead of the club sets – but as a fan of any stuff that's slightly heavier than Dirkie Cuberkie's Toe-Tapping Boogaloo Hits (not a real album) it was refreshing to headbang to artists such as System of a Down, Children of Bodom, Cradle of Filth and even Metallica.

At the end of the evening (by which time I had a horrifically strained neck), we retreated back to the car. For reasons I can't quite remember, I ended up clambering into the boot. Probably to fetch my hat or something. I decided to take a few pictures on the way home.

This was actually way more comfortable than the back seat.

It was a pretty good night of clubbing overall – something which I rarely have the benefit of being able to smile about. Go go Gotham!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Trains and pizza

I'll say it right now. I find Cape Town's public transport system absolutely delightful. Yes, some of this probably stems from the fact that I'm not a regular grinding commuter. But screw that. I've not yet been to any other location which has more taxi drivers than passengers hanging around the bus stop. And before coming here, I hadn't taken a train ride for almost ten years. It's an invigorating experience, I can tell you.

A picture from my very first ride. The other passengers all shared my enthusiasm.

Since discovering the wonders of the locomotive system in Cape Town, I've taken several opportunities to ride on the choo-choos and explore various places around the Mother City. It's akin to that delightful little feeling I always get in videogames whenever I receive that cheerful little “area unlocked” message on my screen – that sense of anticipation and feeling of liberation, only minus the pixellated graphics and sinister aliens attempting to blast me into tiny little Nandrew-shaped pieces.

It's also loads cheaper than going by car. Yesterday I went to Vishoek and back (a considerable trip just short of the distance to Simon's Town) for about eleven rand. Trying to get an even remotely comparable price for car trips or even other modes of public transport would prove to be a great challenge indeed.

Train expeditions are also great for interesting conversations if you play your cards right. On the Vishoek trip, I spoke with an old Zimbabwean fellow (I have this strange tendency to engage in deep and epiphanic chats with old people) who told me what he knew about the place's history, as well as some pretty interesting facts about the little bay and good places to visit.

But now I'm just waffling. The short of it is that I think trains are Cape Town are awesome. In fact, they're very nearly as awesome as the Panarottis “all you can eat pizza” night. Be warned: cellphone pictures follow.

It's blurry, so I'll clarify: this is not pizza. These are the customers.

So, this is basically how it works: every Thursday evening, the Panarottis kitchen staff decide to churn out a bunch of random pizzas and do a tour of the restaurant tables, offering pizza slices as they go. Customers take pizza. Customers eat pizza. Rinse and repeat for the next round of goods. The experience costs just under R40 per head, and if you're determined enough to sit down for an entire evening (or simply possess a constitution heroic enough to let you eat a baby elephant), you could potentially end up with one of the best value-for-money meals in the history of pizza parlours.

The nature of the slice-by-slice rounds means that you end up getting to sample many different types of pizza, a few of them being remarkably creative (some have whined about this – sod their unadventurous tenacity). I, for one, wholeheartedly recommend the chicken mayo and bacon.

“And for you sir, a slice of Eucalyptus and Kitten!”

The pizza came thick and fast, too: within two minutes of sitting down (and before I could even place a drink order), I had three slices of pizza on my plate, and more were coming faster than I could eat them. After less than an hour in the restaurant (and a ridiculous amount of mozzarella cheese), my party was finally forced to admit defeat. We lurched out, clutching our bloated stomachs and cursing our determination to try out-eat each other despite the protests of our respective digestion systems.

It was easily the most food I'd had in one sitting for a very, very long time, and Panarottis now stands as the one pizza establishment that I would actually deem a rival to the Gino's in Grahamstown. The pizza would go fantastically with a good movie.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

LAN in the Town of Cape

With all this recent going-outery and suntannery, a part of me has missed my beloved Xbox sessions and multiplayer mayhem. Fortunately, yesterday provided me with an opportunity to relive my gaming glory for at least an afternoon. With Gears of War 2 , no less.

Unfortunately, there was one hitch in my plan. My friends had locked me in their house.

Me Gnarl. Me HUNGRY!

You see, for the poor, poor students of UCT (my friends being among their number), it was back to the grindstone as a fresh new year of varsity began on Monday. That meant that every morning, I'd wake up and stagger to my feet (wearing nothing but my underwear, of course), scratch my beer-belly and belch a lazy goodbye to my hardworking associates before passing out again. Because that's how I roll.

This time, however, things were slightly different. I warned my buddies that I needed to go out that afternoon, so they were to leave the front door unlocked so that I could escape while they were out. The whole idea was that I would then close (and therefore lock) the door once safely outside the building. What happened instead was this:

ME (at about 9 AM): Don't forget to leave the door open for me.

MY FRIEND: Okie dokies, I'll keep it unlocked then.

(Friend instantly forgets promise and locks the door)

ME: Mmm, this peanut butter sandwich has completely diverted my attention. It is delicious!

(half an hour passes)


I was stuck in the house until about 1pm, after which I was mercifully released and allowed to proceed to my LAN destination. It was a humble setup – only 3 Xboxes (Xboxes? Xboxen? Xbeese? I can never figure out which) and 5 players, newbies amongst their number - but Gears of War 2 is something of a trump card for awesomeness, so we proceeded rather merrily regardless.

The rig was great until we realised there was no space for the players.

During that particular afternoon, I went to what's probably the most awesome bakery in the existence of bread-like production. The Coimbra Bakery in Claremont has some of the most lovingly-crafted delicacies that I've ever seen in a corner cafe, including a whole bunch of delectable confectionery that one would be hard-pressed to find on offer anywhere else.

I was almost loathe to leave without extensively sampling the wares, but the fact that I'd just eaten lunch (combined with the promise of a glorious lasagne meal that evening) forced me to settle with a packet of popcorn and one of their delightful Petit Fours.

So, a summary of the Gears LAN? Well, it went swimmingly, of course. And I was amazing. Practically awe-inspiring.


It also made for a refreshing geeky change in light of all the other malarkey I'd been getting up to recently, and also provided me with a little peek at Xbox Live's version of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night . I'm craving now, dear reader. Craving so badly.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Capering about the Canal Walk

In the same way that you can't be considered a real designer until you have crafted at least one piece of furniture (I'm not sure who first made this rule, but it seems to have stuck), a city cannot consider itself a true population centre until it has at least one big shopping mall to flash at the world while squealing, “Oh looky me!”

Cape Town has Canal Walk , an interesting centre which is divided up into the approximate categories of 30% skater shop, 25% computer stores and 30% food court. The rest is made of hippie and random. And pretty walkways.

Impressive, but the lack of actual canals disappoints me.

I've heard that the shops at Canal Walk stay open for an impressively long time even during the week, which is a far cry from a lot of establishments in Pretoria and Johannesburg – surprising, in my opinion, as I'd consider any 'big' areas to have extended business hours as a sort of default.

How does Canal Walk compare otherwise to rivals such as Menlyn and Gateway ? It's alright, I reckon. Again, this is me being a bit of an architectual fancypansio, but I like the mall's style and commitment to the whole airy, canal-walky vibe. Check the above picture again and imagine walking along a gondola-strewn riverside in Venice or something (okay, perhaps a higher-res version would do better). It's a really pretty place.

Also, it has a food court. With food in it. Instant success.

The tables are covered in comic book panels. Stop on by and have a look if you don't believe me.

A word of advice: if you haven't yet tried a schwarma from Anat , do yourself a favour and find the nearest chapter in this franchise. I stumble across Anats only occasionally, and treat them much like a gamer would treat those coveted save checkpoints. Just replace the cool audiovisual feedback with unadulterated deliciousness.

Schwarmas are messy but incredible. I'd advise against eating them too often – they're a bit of a pocket dent if you're on a budget like mine – but they sure do reward your investment if you decide to indulge. I love this sort of cuisine – mainly because it has such a distinct taste when compared to, well, anything else. It reminds your tastebuds that they're sampling real food.

To round off this post, I present to you a poorly-taken picture from one of my window-shopping sessions:

Yeah, yeah. Glass + camera flash = failure. I'm a nooblet.

The image on the box is a skull. With a mohawk. The logistics of hair on skulls aside, the caption below was what really caught my eye.

“Because we care.”

I'm not quite sure how to comment on this. I was never brought up to link the concepts of 'caring' and 'skulls'. Apparently, most skulls are just misunderstood individuals who, like the rest of us, just want to love and be loved. And wear mohawks.

If you want a better version of this pic (probably taken by a real photographer, or at least not a complete dunce), then check it on this blog: it seems like the marketing boys at Diesel are sending their careskulls all over the globe. Their touching gesture fills me with warmth, hope and a million tiny teddybear skeletons.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Couching in Cape Town – Red vs Blue

Okay, so I was feeling rather ill yesterday. In all due honesty, I should have seen this coming: since I arrived in Cape Town, one of my digsmates has been sniffling and hacking like he had the Black Lung . Fortunately, I seem to have something of a fast-forward immune system: I usually feel like absolute hell for 24 hours, but tend to bounce back almost immediately afterwards. Hooray for me: I may actually leave the house today.

That leaves the matter of what I got up to yesterday, and since I spent so much time within the proximity of a couch, I deem it necessary to publish a long-overdue sleep review of my current abode.

I was offered two sleeping options. Enter option A:

Nice blue couch. Laptop not part of standard package.

This is a pretty good resting spot: the material isn't chafey, the length is acceptable and the low arms allow for a great deal of flexibility in posture, meaning that no matter what your sleeping style may be, you should be able to find a position that's most comfortable for you. A word of advice: low arms are king. If they're below a certain height, they can even be used as cushions.

Unfortunately, there's one or two disadvantages to this particular resting spot. One is the colossal noise that the couch emits every time you make even the slightest movement. If you're a fairly heavy sleeper or capable of selectively filtering out nighttime noises, this should be okay. Light sleepers, you'll just have to learn to lie very, very still when you're slumbering. And stop breathing.

Other problems include the damnable mosquito population (good luck trying to get a peaceful night with those little buggers around) and the extremely central location of the couch itself – meaning that you'll have to be comfortable with a high-traffic sleep environment. Still, these are purely circumstantial drawbacks and it would be unfair to judge the couch too heavily based on such external factors. This couch gets 6.8/10 because I felt like putting a decimal point somewhere.

Option B isn't going to receive nearly as generous a review:

Remember, kids. Red = danger.

The picture may not convey this properly, but this little red number is rather small. Sure, it gets points for being cute and portable (heck, it's a chair as well!), but this isn't nearly enough to offset the fact that it's altogether way too tiny to support human life.

Sure, this may be cool if you're a dwarf. And I mean a particularly small dwarf that gets teased by other dwarfs for being so short. But I'm going to assume that the majority of sleepers will be of average dwarf-height or taller, and for such people this couch will simply not do. The material of the couch also promises a forbidding rest spot during winter, for which the first 30 seconds will basically mean the difference between life and a frigid death that would put the Camps Bay ocean to shame.

Yes, you can adapt and extend the couch with various peripherals to make your sleep more comfortable (maybe rest your feet on some extra cushions or whatever), but at the end of the day a couch review assesses the couch itself WITHOUT any of the extra 'help' that creative sleepers may employ. As a result, I'm sadly forced to give this particular sleep spot a 3/10.

When I return to Cape Town in April for Coke Zero Fest with some friends, I'll definitely be fighting for the blue couch when night falls.

Monday, February 16, 2009

War against the beach

This is a pic of the ocean at Camps Bay:

Ahhhh, the big blue sea.

Beware, dear reader. Within this idyllic tourist setting hides an ice-cold monster that will swallow your feet and steal your towel. This is the diary of an epic battle which took place between me and the dire entity known as the Camps Bay Beach. It is full of drama, terror and unnecessary war references. Manuscript follows.

2:00 PM: Battle preparations start. We decide to assault the beach in the afternoon, when it will be at its weakest.

2:30 PM: Our forces begin the march. In a friend's car.

2:55 PM: Arrival at the battleground. A full charge towards the sand dunes is immediately ordered.

3:00 PM: Our initial attack is repulsed quickly by raging sandstorms caused by an unholy amount of wind. We retreat to the grass with sore eyes and stinging legs. Curse you, Camps Bay!

3:05 PM: After regrouping on the grassy knoll, we decide to establish an assault post just next to the sand, via which we'll be making guerilla strikes into enemy territory.

3:25 PM: Camps Bay attempts to char-broil us with a heat ray. We apply the necessary protection and stay the assault. One point to us, Camps Bay!

3:35 PM: A tactical hit squad is sent directly to the ocean to determine the viability of a rear assault. Several good men freeze to death in the icy depths of knee-high water. Remaining forces are withdrawn.

3:40 PM: I attempt to do some reconnaissance. A few photos of enemy strongholds and attractive beach-goers are snapped before Camps Bay catches on to my plan and sends another sandstorm my way. I hide my camera for fear of damage and death.

Camps Bay has quite a few hotties. Pic unrelated.

3:45 PM: I volunteer for a second strike on the Camps Bay ocean. I proceed cautiously, but Camps Bay sends a colossal wave in my direction. I believe my life to now be forfeit, but my incredible fortitude helps me pull through and I'm able to escape, freezing and stumbling, back to home base.

4:00 PM: Camps Bay is clearly pissed off. The wind becomes even more powerful and several of our towels are stolen by a particularly forceful gust. Several more soldiers die in sandstorms while retrieving these critical supplies. We salute their bravery.

4:15 PM: I take a picture of someone's butt.

A butt.

4:20 PM: The wind has been raging for a good twenty minutes now. We considered ourselves safe on the grass, but are nonetheless continuously pelted with sand and the occasional ice cream vendor. The situation is looking grim. Commanding officers decide to hold ground and weather the storm.

4:30 PM: Morale breaks – a full retreat is ordered. Our broken and battered squad limps back to the car, scorned one last time by a rush of stinging sand from the beach. Damnation to you, Camps Bay. You may have won this battle, but we'll be back. And we'll be prepared.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A hike up Devil's Peak

Yesterday was pretty neat: a couple of friends and I went for a bit of mountain climbing up Devil's Peak. Devil's peak is a part of the Table Mountain 'amphitheatre' surrounding Cape Town, and falls a bit short of Table Mountain's own height.

It's still a bugger to climb, though.

Our nemesis looms in the distance. Also, friend's head.

I'm not much of a hiker. In fact, I'd probably be a better hiker if you blindfolded me and chopped off both my legs. And attached a “kick me” sign to my back. Gasping and wheezing up the steep slope of the peak wasn't the dashing and romantic adventure that I'd originally forseen, but my one saving grace was that I hadn't lugged my laptop with me – my friends somehow managed to persuade me that a rugged mountain landscape wasn't the ideal place for a portable computer. It's probably just as well: I reckon that my Internet connection would have been absolutely rotten at the top.

Still, the climb was well worth the effort: one encounters some almost alien sights while climbing up the peak, and the photography opportunities are amazing. Even if you're the absolutely rubbish type who screws up camera settings for huge parties , there's always some fascinating opportunities which practically launch themselves at your digital snapper. Putting them all on this blog would send everybody's bandwidth bills skyrocketing.

After a quick stop by the Rhodes memorial, we hiked up to a location on the mountain known as the Block House, an old military installation near the summit that sports several cannons which, in the past, were used to defend the Cape Town colony from attack, but which now mostly serve as tools for phallic humour in the hands of more juvenile tourists.

“Take it all, Cape Town!”

On the way down, a very generous breeze struck up, allowing us to scuttle down the hill with our hair blowing in the wind and a tempest roaring in our hearts. Or something like that. Unfortunately, the downhill trip once again proved Nandrew's Eyewear Law: the fact that within a month of purchasing a new pair of sunglasses, I'll either lose them or destroy them utterly.

The wind was so startlingly intense that at one point my sunglasses were blown clean away and instantly lost within the mountainous terrain. I spent about ten minutes searching in vain for the specs, but at least my fruitless efforts yielded some more cool pictures.

This picture may seem inconspicuous at first ...

... but could this be the legendary Extremely Pale Yeti of the Cape mountains?

Overall, the mountain hike has been a worthwile and invigorating experience. Moreover, my tan has graduated from Creamy White to Off-Colour Creamy White. I show it to people at every given opportunity. They generally remain unimpressed for some reason.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

UCT Big Bash

So I spent Friday evening at Ratanga Junction for UCT's Big Bash – basically the biggest student-affiliated party on the University's calendar. This end-of-orientation-week event had some pretty big stuff happening, including live performances from groups such as Goldfish , DJ Euphonic and The Dirty Skirts.

There was, of course, a cover charge. Due to my incredible awesomeness however, I managed to get in for free. This was primarily due to the fact that on Wednesday I was approached with coolest job offer ever ever: manning the Coke Zero tent and showing off Guitar Hero: World Tour. I'm something of a Guitar Hero enthusiast, so getting paid to watch and play videogames for an entire evening while surrounded by scantily-clad Coke ladies is something of a holy grail for me.

This wasn't Table Mountain, but the view was superb.

Admittedly, a job is a job and there were times when I wished that the evening would just end. For a start, my feet were killing me - it turns out that standing up becomes old hat after a few hours. On top of that, new laws should be introduced to disallow anything of student-like disposition anywhere near stuff of alcoholic quality. Especially when you throw delicate videogaming equipment into the mix. Random Drunk Girls #348 and #422, I'm looking right at you.

I wish I had more pictures though. Being the idiot I was, I had my camera settings all screwed up for most of the evening and most of my photographs were distinctly blorgh in quality. A great evening nonetheless, and hopefully hunting about on Facebook or event sites will soon turn up some professional photography anyway.

My fortress of ... something. Mind the bloom effect.

The evening rounded off at about 1 AM, after which there was a mad rush for bus rides back to campus. It was at this point that I realised I hadn't planned far enough ahead: for the entire evening, I was under some delusional fantasy that I'd be going back via car with a couple of my friends. What I got instead was a queue full of bustling, pushy animals who seemed altogether way too preoccupied with getting back home as soon as humanly possible (presumably because one in ten individuals had a timebomb fastened around their necks).

Mercifully, I was able to get onto a bus with my friends after about twenty minutes, though not before getting my hair tugged by Random Drunk Dude #287 (“Hey, ponytail! Hurrgh! Hehe, ponytail!”) and somehow getting my nose stabbed by Random Drunk Dude #391 (who managed to get a glowing devil horn INSIDE MY NOSTRIL during the shoving and swarming – an almost inhuman display of drunken precision).

I often laugh when I consider how it's students like these who will be the future leaders of our country. Admittedly, though, I usually stop laughing after a bit and begin crying instead. Then I stop crying and turn around to swear at the guy tugging on my ponytail.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Son of the beach

Plenty of stuff's been happening over in Cape Town, though my friends still seem to insist that we're “not doing anything much”. I've been spending my first few tentative days in Cape Town getting acquainted with the surrounding environs and, of course, the crowd of people who hang out with my friends.

Last night we had a bit of an evening at the flat – we invited a few people around and played a few drinking games (in a rare moment of alcoholism, I indulged that evening with half a beer – my, my, how uncontrollable I can be!). Afterwards, we sat around swapping stories, telling jokes and generally talking rubbish until about 11pm.

“Let me tell you guys about that time I drank a WHOLE beer!”

The next morning, it was time to cast away my fears once and for all – in an unprecedented move, I suggested to my friends that we Actually Go Outside. This bewildering environment with excessive sunlight and no visible ceiling has long been the bane of my existence, but I decided to tackle it head-on by trundling off to the beach at Muizenberg .

The scenery is unbelievable: on the initial drive alone, I took about a dozen breathtaking pictures of Table Mountain (this was before I was told that I was looking at the wrong mountain). Seriously, though: nowhere before have I seen a mountain that leads directly into the freaking ocean itself.

Big wet stuff, meet huge stone thing.

After becoming marginally more tanned than usual (a slightly less intense milky white), we went on a grand old shopping trip for necessities. In the process, I stumbled upon this interesting little place:

It certainly grabs one's attention.

Happiness Unlimited and its sister establishment, Flashback are a brilliant injection of funkiness in an otherwise oh-so-ordinary environment. Having spent a great deal of time in hubbly lounges, chill-out bars and similar bohemian environs, I have something of a soft spot for what I like to call the “colourful culture”. Vibrant clothing, Eastern trinkets, party costumes, incense sticks and all sorts of funky equipment are available here. Oh, and the shops themselves are absolutely gorgeous. Have a gander at this ceiling mural:

Huuurgh, colours!

Have a look at a high-res version if you want to. Or if you're interested in learning more about the shop itself, check out the Facebook group . I plundered the depths of this establishment a fair amount, laying claim to several colourful prizes including my very first bandana ever ever.

Disclaimer: Not really a picture of me.

Now I'm kicking back with some chilled music, a sweet brown bandana wrapped around my head and the promise of an awesome time at UCT's Big Bash party tomorrow. I have a special little surprise in store involving some plastic guitar controllers, so anybody else attending the bash tomorrow had best keep an eye out for the Coke Zero stand ...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

... and hello, Cape Town!

Between recovering from my recent bus trip, getting used to navigating Cape Town and hurriedly finishing off my monthly contribution to SACM, I've been rather neglectful of this blog over the past 24 hours. Sadly inappropriate, I must admit, considering that this is my first opportunity to blog about something other than a landlocked sea of traffic and gargantuan shopping malls.

Cape Town, in a nutshell, has been amazing thus far. I'm currently staying with a couple of friends from UCT – they have a small flat not that far from campus, and are currently spending their days doing pretty much whatever comes to mind (UCT is still sitting in Orientation Week, dear Gautengers!). Their accomodation is humble, but it's a refreshing change of scenery.

Such a friendly atmosphere, too.

After spending a recuperative-slash-busy evening at their residence, I woke up fresh and revitalised on Tuesday morning, ready for a little adventure. I started off fairly humbly: I went off to an area known as Observatory and acquainted myself with a few online friends at a nearby pool bar known as Stones. It has interesting music, a great vibe and (most importantly) reasonably-priced drinks – I've been told that this is a common student hang-out, so I guess that would explain it. Students remain the most financially-retentive matter known to science – in other words, they're a bunch of damn stingy gits.

Such a friendly atmosphere, too.

Following my sojourn at Stones, I found myself playing host to another friend who I'd spent some time with while I was up in Johannesburg. Cool as this was, I found myself playing the awkward role of middle-man during his visit: finding ways to entertain a guest becomes horribly difficult when you're a tourist yourself. That, and you suddenly realise that you have to fight for a prime spot on the couches. Kinda like an alpha male sorta thing, except with a pair of pale-faced, muttering geeks having pillowfights and slap wars.

No, wait, I'm lying through my teeth. Not pale at all. As a matter of fact, after just a single hour sitting in the outside area at Stones, my associate and I both got horribly burned. We teamed up to buy ourselves some sun protection afterwards, but my friend admittedly looked rather rad: he'd only been partially exposed, and got some cool selective reddening on half of his face.

Protip: chicks dig sunburn.

In other news: while hanging about at St Peter's Square yesterday (it's a mall in Observatory), I popped into a nearby store and got myself a new camera with which I was able to take all these rad new pictures (with perhaps the exception of the one above). Here's me posing for its virginal photograph upon the wind-swept peaks of a Cape Town parking lot.

Looking great, bud.

It's a Pentax Optio E20: basically an exact replica of my previous camera, except everything works significantly better. Still not what one would consider a hardcore picture-taking device (it's the Pentax entry-level offering), but I'm already falling in love with it.

More stuff tomorrow! I've just squeezed past some deadlines and I have some interesting plans for the rest of the week.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Night Bus Reflections

I don't think I'll ever get used to the idea of curling up on a bus seat for some shuteye, especially if my situation is compounded by noisy announcements, an erratic drip of water from the ceiling (I still can't figure out where that blasted stream came from) and, of course, other passengers.

This is the third time I've been on an overnight bus trip. Until now, I've been rather fortunate in my route selection, but it does mean that my body is woefully underprepared for the night-long onslaught that awaits me.

For those who don't know, sleeping on a bus doesn't actually count as sleeping. Your eyes close, your body goes through the motions and on occasion your mind may even wander into dreamland. Don't be fooled. You're lying to your brain. The morning after is a testimony to this.

This may seem impossible, but here's me looking even worse than usual.

Still, I had a surprisingly interesting trip. The movie selection wasn't absolutely lamentable, the coffee did its job and I just happened to sit down next to one of the most fascinating individuals I've met in quite a while. He was a truck driver from Paarl – a man who sometimes spent 14 hours a day on the road, doing deliveries and travelling around the country behind the wheel of a vehicular behemoth. Similar to a bus driver, I guess, but with less annoying cargo.

The moment he sat down next to me (way back when the bus was still grunting and rattling in the Johannesburg terminal), he shook my hand, said “Hello, my friend!” and plunged into a monologue about what he was doing in Gauteng and why he was catching a bus ride back to the Cape.

His presence and openness struck me for some reason – his words were free of the platitudes and memes that so many fly-by-night strangers have, in the past, offered me in a vain attempt to establish a connection while waiting at a bus stop or shopping till. He wasn't trying to impress me. In fact, at times it was as if he spoke to himself - though he never failed to offer an occasional acknowledging glance in my direction. Me, a complete stranger who he was treating like a close friend!

After recovering from my initial feeling of awkwardness, I engaged the driver in a bit of conversation. It was mostly him who did the talking – I satisfied myself with the occasional navigatory question, but otherwise just sat and listened.

As the driver told me about his life, his experiences and the places he'd been, I thought about my own desire to travel. Thus far, I've admittedly been a bit vague with my ambitions. I've justified my decision to roam for a year with the stalest appeasements imaginable: a desire for adventure, a change of scene, the feeling that it's “the right thing to do”. It's been awkward trying to convince some people that this is how I want to spend my first year out of varsity.

Speaking to the driver made me realise that my decision stemmed from a desire to emulate the people I admired: those who had gone out and experienced the world on a level that brought them out of the stale, 9-to-5, sedentary comfort zone. Those who had stories of exotic lands, people and encounters that shaped them and helped them grow.

Such individuals garnered my respect because for all my diligence and dedication to my machines and my writing (which has served me well, to be fair), I ultimately had a much narrower perspective of the world than they did. I look at these people and I see something better – a level of maturity and "life wisdom" that I doubt I'm ever going to find if I just sit in front of a computer screen.

I think that is why I'm spending this year striking up random conversations with Gauteng cops about guns and crooks, blowing ninety bucks on bed and breakfast with a crew of American volunteer workers and spending an uncomfortable 18 hours curled up on a bus seat next to a rambling 65-year-old truck driver. I've seen time and time again how experience can mature and strengthen an individual, and I want a piece of that pie - no matter how much I may be stumbling in the process.

I wish I'd taken a picture of the gentleman who'd filled such a great part of my trip with interesting conversation, but I must admit that for some reason I was a little afraid to ask for a pose. Maybe I was concerned about spoiling my description of this man with a shaky cellphone photograph, or maybe I was just being a wuss. Either way, this strange and fascinating individual – a man whose name I'd never even had the courtesy to request – got off shortly before I arrived at Cape Town, and it's quite likely that I'll never see him again.

He's given me something to think about, though.

... aaaaaand holy crap, I've just written a serious blog post. Don't worry, dear reader, I'll start talking rubbish again tomorrow. Cape Town awaits.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Goodbye Gauteng! (Part 2 of 2)

After spending the morning securing a respectable caffeine dose and organising my schedule for the next two days, I sat down to watch some of The Heartbreak Kid in the backpacker lodge TV room. From there, it was off to Hatfield Plaza to grab some stuff for a picnic party.

At this point, I was reunited with the Bat Cave geek crew, who had apparently spent most of the week doing loads of awesome stuff while I sat at my grandparents' home catching up on some freelance work. Bugger. Still, I did not allow envy to get the better of me as we prepared for a party in Zita Park to celebrate the additional yearing of one of my friends.

Ironically enough, said party would entail lots of sun and exercise – oh dearie me, how stereotyping groans under the weight of our awesomeness!

My photographic intentions were benign. Danny's bum is purely a bonus extra.

We ended up playing a game of Froccer – a made-up sport which kinda happens to be a mixture between Ultimate Frisbee and netball. Although my friends originally created it to circumvent the “no ballgames” rule back on their old University campus grounds, I was intrigued to discover that similar ideas have also cropped up elsewhere.

The goal of Froccer is to get the “ball” (a frisbee) to touch an enemy team's goal post while protecting your own. Whoever holds the frisbee isn't allowed to move, meaning that the only way to reliably get it across the field is to toss it over to team mates. If the frisbee hits the ground, the team who touched it last gets penalised.

Froccer can end up being quite exhausting, unless you're cunning like me and opt to sit back as a goal keeper of sorts. But it felt good to get some proper exercise and although I communicated exclusively with pants, grunts and whines during the game itself I actually had quite a bit of fun overall. Still, flopping back onto the picnic mats and getting some snacks and drinks afterwards did feel like pure heaven.

The meal afterwards was social and free of buttshots.

As evening approached, we went back to the birthday boy's pad for some swimming and a session of Whose Line Is It Anyway? consisting mainly of improv scenes and well-worn memes. We all had a great time, though regrettably it was at this point that my camera decided to choke up and start making funny noises. Five minutes later, it ceased to function.

A moment of silence for my poor departed camera.

My Optio S40 has had a good run – it was already old when I bought it second-hand a few years back – and while it wasn't the best of cameras, it did its job and I am sad to see it go.

Still, I acknowledge the need to move on and I'll be hunting down a replacement camera as soon as I get to Cape Town. I'm taking the bus in a little over two hours and will probably make do with my cellphone camera until I get my hands on a new point-and-shooter.

And now it's time for me to bugger off. I need to get some packing done before my harrowing overnight journey to the west coast. I look forward to the new location – I've spent a good three weeks up in Pretoria already – but I'm still apprehensive about the upcoming night of horrific sleeping positions, crying babies and stinky passengers. Wish me luck, dear reader. I'll see you again on the other side.

Goodbye Gauteng! (Part 1 of 2)

In an unprecedented move, I've just spent a good 48 hours of my life away from my laptop. Okay, not strictly away, but even though I've been carrying it around everywhere I haven't actually opened it up and used it. I guess it's up to this bumper blog post to address any withdrawal symptoms that may occur.

My most recent set of escapades began innocently enough: I thought that it would be a good idea to hang out with my cousin a little bit before leaving Pretoria, so on Friday afternoon she suggested that we sit down and have a drink of coffee somewhere. Of course, it turned out by 'drink' she meant 'paint', and by 'coffee' she meant 'her new student accomodation'.

A common misunderstanding.

Joining us was a guy from the US who I usually made a point of inviting along whenever I went horsing around with my dear cuzzie. I like him because he's fairly laid-back (regrettably, there are only two traits that I can identify with the average Gautenger thus far: heightened stress and scary driving tactics), but he's also great because he has a stronger accent than me, so my own peculiar manner of speaking tends to fall by the wayside whenever I hang out with him. Oh, I'm such a conniving little bugger.

Seriously, though, I've enjoyed several good times already as a member of this “three musketeer” group (actually, all of my best social exploits seem to be done in threes), and spending some time with a paint brush and industrial cleaner actually proved to be novel rather than harrowing.

In an unprecedented move, we actually managed to get more paint on the walls than on our shirts.

After a bit of brushwork, we had to pack up because my cousin was skipping off to work (well, “reluctantly shuffling” may be a better term). I accompanied my States buddy to the Cool Runnings in Hatfield (link semi-related) and met up with some Americans from the Peace Corps.

It turned out that, like my own associate, they stayed at a local lodge known as 1322 Backpackers International. Since I didn't have a clearly defined way home that night (and possessed a delightful mixture of adventurous inspiration and dead-beat laziness), I decided to leave Cool Runnings after a while and followed the company back to the lodge.

The place wasn't half-bad. Typically, I've always understood backpackers to be minimalist bedroom-in-the-back establishments. I mean, they're generally one heck of a lot cheaper than the average hotel room – a night in the dorms is usually less than R100, and the rate gets better if you prolong your stay.

However, 1322 (despite being a few sad numbers short of the oh-so-awesome 1337) seems to have a wide variety of cool extras which I honestly did not expect from an establishment with the 'backpacker' label.

I didn't actually swim, but it's the thought that counts.

Sure, just about everything here is self-service, but when you're offered a TV room, a fully-stocked bar, secure accommodations and even free coffee, doing stuff for yourself doesn't turn out to be half bad. Better still, there's an atmosphere of chilled-out friendliness and a level of interaction with the other guests that you simply don't find when booking into the Fancypants Hotel of Expensive Service (not a real hotel name). It almost made me feel like I was back in the hippie-strewn hills of the Eastern Cape.

Mmm, bed.

The sleep review for this establishment provides a thumbs up overall. The mattress is comfortable, the facilities are adequate and – most importantly – you even get the option of sleeping in a bunk bed.

Bunk beds are something of a holy grail. It's difficult to describe, but my inner child always squeals whenever I see a double-storey resting spot such as this. It's like a miniature playground set, complete with ladders, hiding spots and that ever-sought-after high ground. Truly a magical place to sleep, and quite a rarity in my world.

Unfortunately, being in a dorm has its drawbacks. Another resident (who I shall simply refer to as Sir Snoresalot Snorey of the Snoremore Kingdom) had a certain nighttime problem which I shall not disclose here. Suffice it to say, Sir Snorey managed to not only make the walls tremble with his crime-against-nature nocturnal grunting, but he actually managed to do so without waking himself up in the process.

I debated for a while whether or not it was a good idea to charge at Sir Snorey with a pickaxe. Then I realised that I had a lovely pair of earplugs that came with the spoils of my recent Menlyn trip, so I put those on instead. Great success.

Overall sleep rating: plus one billion points out of ten for the bunkbed. Minus one billion and two points for Sir Snorey. Plus another eight points for overall experience and comfort. 6/10 in all. 8/10 if you have the foresight to wear earplugs.

More blogging as soon as I can get the words onto the keyboard (and an Internet connection reliable enough to let me post properly).