Half way there!


When I found I hadn't used up all weight in my baggage allowance I couldn't resist bringing my backpacking gear - just in case I get the chance to use it!
When I found I hadn’t used up all weight in my baggage allowance I couldn’t resist bringing my backpacking gear – just in case I get the chance to use it!

On Saturday evening, my plane took off from the Detroit airport. After a layover in Amsterdam, my dad, my sister Melinda, and I arrived in Cape Town, South Africa without any complications. The flight itself was quite pleasant – we watched an absolutely ridiculous but very funny French movie, listened to some Dutch pop music, and actually managed sleep for about half of one the flights. By far my favourite part of the trip was seeing the sunrise over the English Channel just before landing in Amsterdam. The colours were brilliant and of course from our elevation there was nothing to impede the view. As we neared the airport, the plane circled and descended, turning away from the sun, and once my side of the plane was facing East again, the sunrise had disappeared behind the clouds and the curvature of the earth.  If the plane had not turned, I might have watched the sunrise “unrise”!

Sunrise as viewed from the plane - although my cellphone pic doesn't do it justice. The blue cylinder at the bottom is the jet engine sticking out beneath the wing.
Sunrise as viewed from the plane – although my cellphone pic doesn’t do it justice. The blue cylinder at the bottom is the jet engine sticking out beneath the wing.

Right now I’m in Stellenbosch (about 45min from Cape Town), where my dad and I are staying with one of my mom’s friends from her university days while my sister moves in and get’s registered at the University of Stellenbosch. My mom’s friend’s house is awesome – it’s right on one of the main roads in Stellenbosch, only a few minutes walk from campus, but it makes a stark contrast with everything around it. If the city is the picture of nature tamed and under control, her yard is the picture of nature allowed to run wild. Wild yes, but without taking over.While in the city humans control nature, here nature and humans live side by side without one controlling the other. Vines and trees line the driveway, but leave just enough space for a car of modest size to fit through.  Bushes, ferns, and grapevines surround the house, but leave room for one to see out the window and get in the door.

Melinda standing in the driveway
Here nature is free!










The inside of the house has a similar feel – everything has a place, the place just isn’t necessarily on a shelf or in a cupboard. And I’ve never seen so many chemistry books in one person’s possession in my life!

Nature may be more controlled, but Stellenbosch itself is beautiful too – it’s primarily a university town, and there are a lot of historic buildings in the Cape Dutch style. It is surrounded by mountains (my sister jokes that if you go running you can’t run more than 10 minutes before you find yourself going up!) and flowers, trees, and vegetation abound.  It’s also the winemaking capital of the country, so vineyards cover the rolling hills that lead up to the mountains.

On Thursday morning I’ll be flying to Madagascar, while my dad stays in SA for business and Melinda starts her studies. Until then, I’m running errands, visiting family, loving the sun, and finding that I haven’t completely forgotten how to drive a manual (ie stick shift) car!

Predeparture: Enjoying the Snow and learning Malagasy

It’s finally starting to sink in: in two weeks time I’ll be in the air, on my way to Madagascar! My program only starts on the 30th of January, so I’m fortunate to have an extra 3 weeks of vacation to spend with my family. My sister Melinda attends the University of Stellenbosh in South Africa, and conveniently her semester starts around the same time as mine, so we’ll be able to fly as far as South Africa together. This flight plan also means I’ll be able to visit her in SA on my way back to the USA in May 🙂

Can you tell I love snow?!

Meanwhile, while I’m still here in Michigan, I’ve been relishing the wonder of winter and spending as much time as I can enjoying the marvelous amount of snow that fell to earth last weekend – by building “bobsled” runs down the porch stairs, sliding down the banks of frozen waterfalls, constructing igloos, blowing bubbles outside and watching them freeze, and playing broomball 🙂

Frozen waterfalls are pretty cool, eh? Last week I explored Hungarian falls, located near Houghton in the UP. There are some great things to see even without leaving the state!

Now I feel like I can go to Madagascar in a couple weeks without feeling like I missed out on this beautiful season. In fact, the prospect of bare feet and not having to bundle up every time I leave the house is starting to sound quite appealing!

When I’m not playing in the snow, I’ve been trying to learn Malagasy, the native language of Madagascar. It’s been fascinating – the language has Malay origins, but has a definite African feel; the grammar and sentence structure is totally different to any other language I’m familiar with, and although words contains many vowels you rarely pronounce half of them! I’m excited to get to Madagascar and see what the ideal of “picking up” a language that’s around you actually looks like. I’m guessing it involves a lot of frustration! Oh the other hand, I’m feeling more optimistic about French, the other language spoken in Madagascar. I’ve being listening to French radio stations from Madagascar and other French African countries – and so far I’ve been finding the African-French accent easier to understand than the Parisian accent I’ve been taught in French classes! I’m hoping that’s the case when I’m actually in Madagascar too.