Blue Mountains and Australian Forests

Sydney is in a unique position geographically because it is surrounded by the ocean on one side, and national parks and mountains on the other. One of my friends, who is an Aussie native, lives in the Blue Mountains and this past weekend we decided to take a quick day trip out to the lower mountains. We headed to a place called Jellybean pools and we walked around swimming holes and we even walked down to a cave where an aboriginal tribe had painted their hands onto the side of the cave. It was amazing to see paintings which are so old and tell such a unique story with even the largest of hands being far smaller than my own.

Here is the hand paintings made by aboriginals from 1600-500 years ago

After walking around the Jellybean pools, my friends and I went to the park ranger’s station to ask about where we could go in order to see a big lookout onto the Blue Mountains. The ranger asked my Aussie friend where he’s from and he told her that he grew up in the Blue Mountains. She then said to him “well then you should know that there aren’t any big lookouts down here, you need to go to the upper mountains to see that!” My friend, who was quite embarrassed said that we were at least hoping to see a good lookout point. The ranger then told us that there were a number of trails and we could try our luck with any of them.

After a quick discussion my friends and I settled on taking a short drive around part of the park to a spot that we believed may lead to some great views. Along the way we passed a couple of kangaroos hopping around which always makes my day just a bit better. We finally arrived at the start of the trail and started walking only to quickly arrive at an incredible overlook and we shared a laugh that the park ranger didn’t consider this to be a “big” overlook. I’ve come to the conclusion that Australia, although it is not the most green country I have visited, has some of the most incredible rock formations I have ever seen. As we looked from atop the valley we watched a winding river cut through a forest as it goes through the mountain.

It seemed like a pretty big lookout to us

Too often when people think of Australia they think of the dangerous creatures that exist, the snakes and spiders amongst other things. Those dangers do exist and it is something that I have been quite aware of especially as the weather becomes warmer the longer that I live here. It is a different experience walking through the forests of Australia than it is walking through the forests of Michigan because there are next to no similarities. In Michigan, I am familiar with most types of trees. I know what berries are edible and which ones are not, and I know that in most of the lower peninsula, the biggest concerns that come with hiking include poison ivy and mosquitoes. I don’t have that same comfort level here which is a strange experience for me. It isn’t that I am in a constant state of fear walking through the forests, but rather a state of uncertainty. If I hear a rustling in the woods in Michigan, I like to stop and look for a frog, gardener snake, squirrel or whatever may have made the noise. In Australia I keep walking, knowing that the sound is most likely a lizard but not being entirely sure.

What strikes me is how different my experience is from that of native Aussies. As I talk to various Australians they are quite comfortable talking about the fact that there does exist a decent number of snakes and they aren’t difficult to find. For Aussies, however, that is simply a part of life. The snakes and spiders do their thing and the people do their own. Perhaps the closest comparison I could make would be the experience of driving in snow for an Australian in Sydney to that same experience for someone in Michigan. Many people from Sydney may have seen snow or been around it during their travels, but driving in snow would likely lead to a level of stress and uncertainty that Michiganders hardly think about. That’s been one of the most educational components of studying abroad for me so far, understanding how much our experience of where we live normalizes components of our lives that would be radical to another individual. I believe that’s one of those lessons that while you may know logically, it is often difficult to fully grasp.

 

   

 

 

 

 

The Mid-Autumn Festival

When the sun sets and the moon shines brightest, Singapore streets, shops, and restaurants boast glowing harlequin paper lanterns, a wide assortment of mooncakes and tea, and traditional Chinese crafts and festivities.

Every year, Singapore’s Chinese community celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, which marks the end of autumn harvest and gives thanks to the gods, especially the Moon Goddess. As the story goes, Chang E, the wife of a ruthless king, drank an elixir of immortality to save her people from him. Chang E ascended to the moon and became the Moon Goddess.

My housemates and I decided to check out the Mid-Autumn Festival at Gardens by the Bay. Large, intricate lanterns took the form of flowers, fish, a rooster, a dragon, and moving cranes. They casted soft ambers, reds, and purples against passersby’s faces as they made their way around Supertree Grove. The Grove offered a vast array of stalls showcasing traditional Chinese art, some of my favorites being sugar art, rice writing, and silk painting. Many stalls sold the usual handheld paper lantern lit by candle wax as well as a more modern, battery-powered, plastic lantern.

And oh, food galore. I didn’t know it was possible to love food more than I already do. Adjacent to the lanterns and the Supertree light show, food vendors sat shoulder-to-shoulder on the street market, catering to a salivating throng of customers. Everything was cheap, most items $5 or under. We pooled money into a towering tornado potato stick, dragon breath (a frozen cereal-like snack dipped in liquid nitrogen), scallion pancakes, sotong balls, popping candy, a mystery iced “blue tea” and okonomiyaki topped with dancing bonito flakes.

Absorbed by the sights and smells of the food market, we accidentally missed most of the first Supertree light show. On the bright side, we were able to save a spot on the grass and watch a few traditional dances while we waited. This light show actually takes places two times every night, but for the Mid-Autumn Festival, they had changed the list of songs to include soothing Chinese melodies as well as some good oldies like Blue Moon.

Grabbed the perfect spot

As the night came to a close, we wandered around the craft stalls, bought some delicious tea, and tried our best to take pictures next to the lanterns (the lighting was not the best; we made do with impromptu lighting with our phone flashlights).

On the way back to the MRT, I spotted a few couples and families sprawled on the grass or benches, gazing quietly at the moon and enjoying one another’s company.

Check out this video! (It may begin halfway through… Be sure to click on the beginning one it’s started to view the full video!).

Market Days

No matter where you go in Cape Town, you can always count on being able to find a good market. There are lots scattered throughout the city, whether they are food markets, craft markets, or markets with both! Each weekend in Cape Town, I try to make it to one in order to scope out some new souvenirs or try some new tasty food. Here are some of my favorites that I’ve made it to so far:

Old Biscuit Mill

This market is one of the most popular in Cape Town and has the largest variety of foods compared to any other market I’ve been to. They are only open on Saturdays, so it is usually pretty crowded, but it is definitely worth squeezing through the crowds to get some delicious food. There are so many food stands, it’s almost overwhelming. Each stand has something completely different than the last. Each time I go, I try a few different things because there is so much to choose from. Some things I have tried at Old Biscuit Mill include mac and cheese balls, crepes, a bacon & egg hash, and apple & honey tea.

On the opposite end of the market there are various stands, storefronts, and shops to browse through. Most of the stands are higher end, designer products or art workshops that you can peak into. It’s a fun way to spend a Saturday morning, browsing through the stands while eating something new each time!

Hout Bay Market

Hout Bay is a fishing area in Cape Town right on the ocean. The market is on the harbor and is similar to Old Biscuit Mill in the sense that there is plenty of food and lots of stands and stores. At this market there is more of a mix of traditional African arts and crafts along with some trendy clothing and jewelry stands. It’s fun to walk around and see such a wide variety of products and art. Once you reach the far side of the market, there is a good selection of food stands to chose from, as well. They have everything from dim sum to waffles to veggie paninis. Everything smells so good its hard to choose what stand to visit! Also, on Friday nights they have live music which makes for a very lively vibe and a fun night at the market!

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Greenmarket Square

Greenmarket Square is the largest craft market in Cape Town located right in the city center. There are over a hundred stands here with art, crafts, jewelry, and more. It is mainly a market for tourists to buy souvenirs, but there are some locals that come as well. Because it is mainly for tourists, the vendors overprice their products to be much more than it should be, but you are able to bargain with them until you come up with a more reasonable price for whatever you would like to buy. During orientation, our RAs gave us some bargaining pointers to prepare us for the vendors at places like Greenmarket Square, which have come in handy so far! One tip they gave us to help lower a price is to show interest in what you want and then start to walk away and say you’re going to look around some more and then decide. They will then insist you come back and pay a reasonable price because they don’t want your business to go to someone else’s stand. Bargaining can be a bit overwhelming, but it is still fun to walk around this market and see all the beautiful things everyone is selling.

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Market on the Wharf & The Watershed 

Along the V&A Waterfront (an area in the city similar to Navy Pier in Chicago) there is the old Watershed building that has been converted into a market with little shops and vendors selling clothes, jewelry, and artwork. Similar to Old Biscuit Mill the items are mostly higher end, but there are still some unique African crafts throughout. Right next to the Watershed, there is the Market on the Wharf, which is a nice food market with lots of selections to choose from! There is an amazing bakery there where we tried some donuts and pastries. We probably exceeded our sugar intake for the week, but it was definitely worth it. These markets are right at the Waterfront, so it is nice to be able to walk around and see the rest of what the V&A has to offer, especially the great view of Table Mountain.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the weekends here in Cape Town so I can discover more good eats and fun art at these markets!

Fiestas Patrias in Chile!

 

“What are your plans for the 18th?” “Are you ready for the 18th?” “I’m so excited for the 18th!”

People were exploding with excitement about THE 18th as I sat in confusion. All I thought was, “Can someone please clarify what in the world THE 18th is?”

Very quickly I was able to understand all of these phrases being thrown around among crowds of Chileans and the meaning of THE 18th.

During the week of September 18th, the streets of Valparaíso explode with Chilean flags, people dancing La Cueca (the national dance of Chile), massive amounts of grilled meat (“Asados”), and so much joy, as Chile celebrates its independence (similar to the 4th of July in the United States). However, it is not just a one-day celebration; rather the entire week is considered a holiday and everything closes, giving everyone the chance to celebrate. It is clearly known by every Chilean that THE 18th refers to the 18th of September, regardless of what time of year you mention the 18th.  And I was blessed enough to experience THE 18th for myself.

“Fondas” or “Ramadas” (essentially what we know as fairs, but with way more food and way more people) take place every day of the week, and every hour of every day. There are rides, games, drinks, food, and hand-made crafts covering every centimeter of the space that has been designated for this crazy celebration. The micros (the city transportation) fill with people at every hour of every day hustling to these celebrations to simply enjoy time with family and friends, and of course, to dance La Cueca.

La Cueca is another sign that “fiestas patrias” (the week of celebration) has arrived. There is an insane amount of Cueca music being played in every place in Chile, as people dance the night away… and the day… because it’s really always a good time to dance La Cueca. All celebrations will incorporate some designated time and space to participate in this dance. I had the opportunity to learn La Cueca and participate in the Chilean celebration through this form of dance (which by the way, I did not do very well, because I wouldn’t consider myself a dancer haha). However, I couldn’t be more grateful for this opportunity to learn about and try to understand the Chilean culture and appreciate the things that they value and that are unique to them.

The smell of “asado” fills the air on every street of the city as families, friends, schools, churches, and any and every person gather in small groups to enjoy massive amounts of deliciously grilled meat. “Asados” are an important part of this week in Chile, as they create space for Chileans to converse, share, and enjoy time together.

The 18th will always have a deeper significance for me after this week in Chile, and for that I am very grateful! Viva Chile!

Fun fact about the 18th and 19th in Chile: There is a law that states that every house, business, and building must clearly hang the Chilean flag outside during these two days, and if they don’t, they can be fined. Chile takes this celebration very seriously and wants every person to take part and be involved.

Daily Life in Freiburg

Week two in Freiburg provided me with the opportunity to finally immerse myself in the daily life of this city. Though we did have two hours of German per day, our only other class was an “Integrative Seminar” course, which has mainly been giving us informative background on the EU and its current state. This has given us plenty of time to get lost exploring the city and helped us to get a sense of what the rest of our semester will be like while we are in Freiburg.

Franziska, my German teacher, gave our class an assignment to walk around and ask questions about the Münstermarkt, which is essentially a large open-air market held in the main town square of Freiburg. And these shop owners are dedicated. Münstermarkt runs every day of the year except for Sundays, including throughout the winter months. It also isn’t your typical farmer’s market – Münstermarkt has souvenirs, flowers, ‘Holzkunst’ (or wood art), wine, and various other items.

The market surrounds the church in the town center, pictured on the right. Here is one of the many stands selling various flowers and plants.
The famous “Lange Rote.” Many Euros will be spent at this stand in the coming months…

Both locals and tourists frequent the market, and many of the stands are quite well-known. From the cheesecake stand ‘Stephans Käsekuchen’ who are famous for their secret recipe to the hot dogs on steroids called ‘Lange Rote,’ the options provided at Münstermarkt are delicious and relatively affordable for a college student like myself.

Only locally produced fruits can be found here, so you won’t see any bananas or pineapples, but the quality and relatively cheap prices of what they do have certainly makes up for it.
Lunch from the Münstermarkt.

After completing our assignment, my classmate Medina and I managed to make it all the way through the market with only four purchases. We then walked through the city center and sat down at a little park to eat away at our delicious lunch pictured above. All of the food sold at Münstermarkt is produced locally, and the produce we bought there was some of the best I’ve had. When in Europe, one finds it incredibly easy to get past minor speed bumps like seeds in your grapes.

A slide some of us stumbled upon about 10 minutes from the city center. I’m not ashamed to say I went down it 3 times.
Need a place to socialize and get a good German beer? The Biergartens are the place for you.

Another great thing about Freiburg are the Biergartens, the best of which is located at the top of a hill right next to the city center. Though we got there slightly too late for it a couple of nights ago, you can catch an incredible view of the sun setting behind the city. Combine that with the delicious local beer and you’re in for a treat.

Speaking of hills, Freiburg is in the region of Germany which produces the best wine, and there are vineyards draped along many of the hills that surround Freiburg. The vineyard pictured above is one I see every day on my tram ride to class. As I discovered a few days ago on a run through a large vineyard by my apartment, they are also a common place to find students gathering for picnics in the evenings. One of my roommates says there are castle ruins somewhere around these vineyards, and on future runs I hope to find their whereabouts, so I will keep you posted…

Exploring Durban

After our Kruger excursion during spring break, we still had the rest of the week to travel, so my friend Noelle and I decided to go to Durban. This is a city on the eastern coast of South Africa known for its beaches, warm climate, and Miami-esque architecture.

We were able to spend a good amount of time on the beachfront. There’s a 5 kilometer promenade that connects several of the beaches to make it easy to walk or bike between them. Our first day we ate brunch at a restaurant right on the beach and walked along the promenade for a while, seeing the different beaches until we ended up at Ushaka Marine World. This beachfront area has an aquarium, water park, and lots of restaurants and shops. We decided to go to a restaurant at the end of the pier for a snack, admiring the view of the city.

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View from the restaurant on the pier

The next morning we came back to the beach nice and early to go stand up paddle boarding with one of our friends from UCT, Tristan, who is from Durban. We had to get there before the wind picked up and made it too difficult to balance on the water. It was fun paddle boarding with the waves and trying to keep our balance when waves swept under us. After an hour or so of paddle boarding (and falling off the paddle board) Tristan gave us a little tour of Durban. Our first stop was the Kings Park Soccer Stadium, which was built for the 2010 World Cup. It’s not used much anymore for sports because the field isn’t big enough for rugby, and that’s the main sport played here. However, it is used a lot for concerts and tourism. There’s even a giant free fall swing at one end of the stadium so people can swing through the stadium to get their fill of adrenaline.

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The World Cup Stadium (if you look closely you can see people near the top getting ready for the stadium swing)

After admiring the stadium, Tristan took us to a part of Durban called Umlhanga. This is a little beach town on the northern end of the city that’s much quieter than the central part of Durban. We walked along the beach here, which was pretty rocky and had a lot of crabs and coral growing along the rocks. It was a very pretty beach in a quieter, charming part of Durban.

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The rocky Umlhanga beachfront

We then went to get some bunny chow, which is curry served inside a half loaf of bread. Its a popular South African dish that’s supposedly the best in Durban, so of course we had to try some while we were there. You eat it by scooping the curry with the piece of bread that was cut from the middle of the loaf. Once that piece of bread is gone, you pick up the loaf with two hands and dig in. It was a pretty messy experience, but still good!

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The next day, Tristan invited us to go to the Hilton Art Festival, the second largest art festival in South Africa. It was held by his old boarding school, so he was super familiar with what it had to offer. There were plenty of food vendors, art stands, and art displays scattered around the campus. We walked around admiring all of the different crafts and artwork, and also saw a show. Shows are a unique part of this art festival, and there are dozens of live performances throughout the weekend. We saw one called James Cairns vs. Humanity, which was an improv show based on the popular card game Cards Against Humanity. It was very well done and really enjoyable!

We got to the festival pretty early, so we had a lot of time left to explore the surrounding area and drove to a few places nearby. The best place we stopped at was the Mandela capture sight, where Mandela was captured and arrested  in 1962 for encouraging workers’ strikes and leaving the country illegally without a passport. There was a long walk to freedom pathway which had markers spread along the way with significant events in Mandela’s political and personal life. At the end of the walkway there was a statue comprised of many irregularly shaped poles. When you stand in the right place, the poles lined up to form Nelson Mandela’s profile. It’s a magnificent piece of art with a lot of meaning as well. I{m glad we ended up at this very thoughtful and educational spot.

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Nelson Mandela capture site statue

We made the most of our short time in Durban and were able to see and experience a lot! And thanks to Tristan, we were able to see some places we wouldn’t have known about without a local Durbanite. What an amazing week it was, and now we are headed back to Cape Town and classes!

Coming Home?

To fully understand where you are going, I think you have to understand where you are coming from. Study abroad for many of my peers is a new and exciting experience unlike anything they have ever done before. For me? Not so much. See, I lived in Prague, Czech Republic, from when I was 8 until I was 16. Coming to Freiburg for the semester is not necessarily diving into the unknown for me. I went swimming a while ago and I’ve just been drying off for a while, anxiously preparing for the next jump and anticipating whether it will still feel the same.

The first few days were a blur. Between jet lag, meeting the 74 other students in the program, and finally moving into our apartments, it was a whirlwind. As part of the European Union Program here in Freiburg, we focus heavily on the European political scene. Our first class two days ago was our Integrative Seminar, which will primarily be a study of how the EU functions, how it is structured, and what purposes it serves. Actually, the only classes we take until the first of our three week long trips throughout Europe are this Seminar and two hours of German each day.

Downtown Freiburg

The city itself is wonderful. Though it has mostly rained on us so far, Freiburg is just big enough to be a lively city and just small enough to learn how to get around quickly. If you come to Freiburg expecting stereotypical German culture, you may be surprised. Though everything is still very pünktlich (punctual), this southern German town is very easy-going, eco-friendly, and quite welcoming.

Along the lines of experiencing this new culture, I had my first dinner with my new housemates. There is something about sitting around a table for an hour engaged (or at least trying to be engaged) in conversation that truly makes living abroad finally seem real. Because I am only living with German students who attend the local university here, I am looking forward to interacting with the people I will be living with not only to experience the lifestyle of Freiburg, but also to hear and speak as much German as possible. So far, I have been able to get recommendations on where to go for runs and which bakery is the best bakery in the area. Accomplishing simple things like these are essential to the experience from what I have seen, because they give you confidence and comfort moving forward.

After the craziness of the first week, we got our first chance to get out into the countryside today. A short train ride followed by a brief bus trip left us in the small town of Sankt Peter, where we had the opportunity to explore the Abbey of Saint Peter.

Abbey of St. Peter
This church was built in the baroque style which was much more colorful and bright than most cathedrals you will find in Europe.
The beautifully painted ceilings of the Abbey.

I could have probably spent another half hour in the Abbey, but naturally our German trip leader Karin ran a tight ship in order for us to get our hike started on time. The hike was about 3 hours long and provided us with a great opportunity to take in the rolling hills and beautiful woodlands, while also getting to get to know the other students in our program. Also on the trip was Jona (the German version of ‘Jonah’), a student studying at the University of Freiburg who basically functions as one of our RAs. He shared with us that he grew up in one of the small villages like Sankt Peter in Germany and explained how he got into american football on accident while trying to help his aunt find the right channel to watch the lottery. His goal is to teach German and coach football in America once he finishes his studies. One career path I am interested in pursuing is working for a European soccer club, so it was fascinating to see how we each have such a similar passion for each other’s culture. It is also a reminder of how connected we truly are despite growing up in completely different environments.

Cow sightings along our 8 km hike.
This area of Germany in particular heavily focuses on sustainability, and even outside the cities you will often find solar panels draped across roofs.
Our final stop was Himmelreich, which literally translates to ‘heaven kingdom.’ I certainly wasn’t going to disagree.
On the left is Schwartzwald Kuchen, or Black Forest cake, which combined nicely with hot chocolate and delicious strawberry ice cream.

Our hike finally ended in another small town, where we stopped for some traditional German Kaffee und Kuchen, or “coffee and cake,” at a building that used to be a farm, and has now been renovated into a hotel/restaurant that helps employ adults with mental disorders. I myself am not a coffee drinker, but the hot chocolate and other items pictured above were the perfect treat to finish off our hike.

I still can’t decide if this week has seemed to take forever or if it has gone by in a flash, but I am finally starting to feel somewhat settled. The initial anxiety has mostly worn off and I am ready to finally get into a rhythm this first week of classes. There is a lot to look forward to, but for now I’m off to bed…

Connected Travel

There is something magical about the combination of adventure and strangers. We let people in we normally wouldn’t, bond over details which would normally be meaningless, and in my case, are forced to unplug by the stunning lack of service in the Western US.

On my way to Oregon, I did a lot of traveling. Instead of taking a flight out like a normal person, I wanted to see the US. So I took the train. For 68 hours. Which left me a lot of time to get to know a diverse set of new friends.

I met Allen, who plundered Whole Foods with me on our brief stop in Denver. He’s a former Navy man who spent most of the ride hammered, but still managed to talk down his friend the conspiracy theorist (who ended up sounding more sane as he was sober).

Then there’s the conspiracy man himself, who gave his name as Strawberry Santa and spun tales of Burning Man and USO’s (unidentified submersible objects). Whoever he is, he was a great storyteller and entertained me for hours during my second day of the journey.

Next is a nameless woman who calmed drunk and sad Allen and who reminded me of my mother, sweet and kind and genuine. She told me about her son, a freshman in college and I attempted to give advice and reassure her he’d be fine (she’s a worrier like my mom). In turn, she told me of the plight of immigrants in the US (her parents came legally from Mexico before it was so damn hard) and how to calm a worrying mother (you can’t).

I mistook Tom as the son of a friend from Kentucky (she hooked me up with snacks – the second person to do so). He sat quietly with headphones till he was pulled over by Allen to discuss conspiracy theories and weird physics with Strawberry Santa. Once you got Tom going he was a hoot, a New Zealander who loves sailing and is planning to do fancy robotics in Switzerland but decided to travel around the US for a bit and help with a summer camp.

Tom is like my other 4 friends in that they all come from abroad to help at summer camps in the US (and watched a bunch of rich kids for a summer). The 4 girls were from England, New Zealand, and Australia. We stayed up late talking of weird phrases and restaurants that are different (McDonald’s is apparently Mackers). Along the way I learned that Aussies don’t say anything fully – they can’t even do Converses – they call em Connie’s.

My 4 friends were bothered a bit on the way out by the man I call Sweater. He’s always got 3 or 4 sweaters on and talks to himself. He makes me uncomfortable, but he mostly just nods at nothing and stares. He took a liking to the girls though, and got very chatty with them. I’m keeping an eye on him. Some folks you just don’t trust and sometimes it’s best to trust the gut.

Jamaican man has treated us all to great songs along the ride – mixed in with randomly yelling what I took to be another language (it’s just very Jamaican English) into his phone. He’s going to see a “shorty” in Cali and stated pretty frankly his intentions there.

Random woman #2 stole my seat. My friend Allen tried to hold down the fort, but RW2 just plopped down in my beautiful window seat. After a little digging I found out she hunted deer and elk and other large animals. I let her have the window seat. Her grandson plays for Notre Dame hockey and won player of the year, so that’s cool, too.

Then there’s Vincent, who is the kindredest soul I’ve met in a long time. I’m trying to convince him he’s not lazy. I had the same mentality maybe a month or two ago until I worked myself to death and realized my problem wasn’t that I was lazy, it was that I did too much useless work. Anyhow, Vincent is a philosophy and politics major at a small school in Oregon. He and I shared a trip to Sacremento and spoke with an interesting Russian homeless dude at the train station, as well as our friend Sarah, who went to Oberlin but took a year off to travel.

There were some experiences along the way that heightened the sense of togetherness inherent in traveling. The Rockies brought everyone together. Something about the views, the awe, connected us. Stories about moose and elk were exchanged. Hometowns were discovered and described. It was magical.

The non-magical thing is the way I describe my study “abroad” trip. I still haven’t found a good way to do it. Well I have but it’s less than ideal. My family calls the program a cult, since you don’t go home and don’t get your cell phone most of the week.

It’s out in the woods and I’ve found that comparing it to Thoreau works for Americans, but not for international folks – they had no idea who that was. But I tend to ramble about questions of life and figuring it out and thinking and reading in the woods. People find the cult more compelling for some reason. It’s funny how people would rather something fake but weird and interesting than something deeply meaningful and thought out.

A quick update: I made it and I am loving it. I will write more about it, but there is a sense of peace and home here. I’m not sure if it’s the people or the landscape, or both.

Bo-Kaap Cuisine

Yesterday we got the chance to visit Bo-Kaap, a neighborhood in Cape Town, for a tour and cooking lesson. Bo-Kaap originated back in the late 1700s as a neighborhood of rental houses for slaves from Malaysia, Indonesia, and other African countries to lease. When under the leasing rules, all houses had to be painted white. When this rule was eventually changed, the residents were able to purchase the houses and claim ownership. They celebrated by painting the houses various bright colors as a way for them to express their freedom.

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Some of the colorful Bo-Kaap houses

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We met our tour guide, Zayed, at his house and he walked us around the neighborhood to give us a chance to see all of the vibrant, colorful houses and explain some of the history of Bo-Kaap. It’s a very beautiful and unique neighborhood. Zayed explained that the neighborhood is still mainly inhabited by people of Malaysian, Indonesian, or African descent, but that it is becoming a place that White South Africans and Europeans are starting to move into. Because of the brightly colored houses, location, and exciting culture of the area, the housing taxes and prices are increasing drastically, making it harder for the families that have lived there for generations to afford their houses. This is causing these families to have to sell their houses and move out of the neighborhood, which is a heartbreaking reality. In addition, there has been an increase in new development in the area, which takes away from the traditional Bo-Kaap styled homes. The residents are trying to have the neighborhood designated as a historical and cultural neighborhood in order to prevent new developments, but so far the government has not done anything about it. Soon plans will start to build a 19 story hotel in the Bo-Kaap area, which they are trying to put an end to by reasoning with the government. Hopefully they will be able to declare Bo-Kaap as a historical neighborhood before breaking ground on the hotel project.

After walking around and looking inside one of the corner stores,  Zayed brought us back to his house where we began a cooking class! The class was led by his wife who taught us how to make different Cape Malay style dishes. We started off with chicken curry using various spices. What makes this chicken curry specific to Cape Malay is the group of spices called the Mother-in-Law or Father-in-Law masala. The Mother-in-Law is apparently very hot, so we used the Father-in-Law in our curry. The curry included the spices, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, lemon juice, and chicken. We mixed it and let it sit while we made the rest of the food.

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The spices used in the curry
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Mixing the curry

We then made dough for rootie, a traditional flatbread. This process involved a few steps. We first had to mix the dough and roll it out. Once it was evenly rolled out, we twisted the dough into a ball and let it sit for a while. After about an hour or so we rolled out the dough again into circles. They were then ready to be cooked on a frying pan with oil, flipping over every 30 seconds until it was done. After getting the rootie off the pan, we had to smash the rootie together to make it flakey. We put our hands facing each other on the edges of the rootie and clapped them together, smashing the rootie as a result.

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Rolling out the rootie

While the dough for the rootie was sitting, we were shown how to make daltjies, or chilli bites, and learned how to make samoosas. Daltjies are balls of fried dough with onion, spinach, and chillies. They seemed very easy to make and were absolutely delicious. They are usually eaten cold, but we ate them right out of the frier and with some different sauces. I had to stop myself from eating too many and filling myself up, otherwise I could have easily been happy eating those for the rest of the cooking class.

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The daltjies and sauces with the rootie dough sitting after being twisted.

The samoosas were also delicious. These were triangular pockets filled with either a ground beef mixture or a potato mixture that were made. We were taught how to fold the samoosa pastries in order to create the perfect pocket and keep everything from falling out of the samoosas. It seemed tricky, but after a couple of tries I got the hang of it. Once all of the samoosas were folded, they were fried and ready to eat!

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My folded potato samoosa
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The finished samoosas and the final step of making the rooties: cooking in the frying pan

After snacking on the daltjies and samoosas, we moved into the dining room to try our rooties and chicken curry. These were served with white rice and a dish similar to a salsa that is used to make dishes more mild. All of the food was amazing and it was fun knowing that we helped make such a good meal. We were sent home with a recipe book and a packet of spices for the chicken curry, so hopefully I will be able to recreate some of the flavors and foods I learned how to make yesterday! At the very least, as long as I can master the daltjies, I’ll be happy 🙂

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Our final meal including the chicken curry and rooties that we made

It was a really fun and educational visit to Bo-Kaap. Learning about the history and the current struggles of the area made the visit more special, rather than just going to see the colorful houses. Hopefully the government will understand their worries and help make Bo-Kaap a historical area in order to preserve the neighborhood and its culture, including its delicious foods.

Food, Food, and More Food.

Chileans not only eat a variety of different meals than we eat in the United States, they also have a slightly different meal schedule. A day in Chilean life still calls for three complete meals; however, lunch is to be the largest meal of the day – and I mean very, very large. Lunch is typically the only meal during which meat is served, making it an exciting time of the day for someone who loves meat as much as I do! In most traditional Chilean households, the mom only cooks one meal a day, normally lunch, served at 2 or 3 o’clock. This clearly leaves a pretty large gap of time between breakfast, which is eaten around 8 o’clock in the morning, and the afternoon meal. And no, snacking is not really a habit here in Chile, meaning you patiently wait until lunchtime to eat.

Meals are almost always served and eaten with the entire family present, with lunch lasting anytime between one and three hours. Families value this time together, seeing it as an excellent opportunity to share about their days and enjoy one another’s company. Coming from the U.S., this was quite the adjustment for me, as I had become accustomed to quick meals in Phelps or in fast food drive-throughs! Although a challenge at first, lunch is now one of my favorite periods of the day. I truly value this time with my wonderful host family.

Breakfast in Chile usually consists of tea or coffee, hot bread with jelly, sweet fruit, and, occasionally, eggs. However, every once in a while, you may be served a sandwich or salad for breakfast. Although I find it normal to eat certain foods at certain times, Chileans do not seem to feel the same; any food is fair game for any meal. Yet, a typical dinner happens to be almost identical to a typical breakfast: some type of bread with some type of topping (whether it be jelly again or chicken-flavored spread), veggies, and tea. An unreal amount of bread is served and consumed in Chile. Chileans view bread just as I know Mexicans view tortillas… like precious gold.

Two staple meals unique to Chilean culture are empanadas and chorrillana. Empanadas are large masa (dough) pockets, deep-fried and stuffed to the brim with an assortment of cheese, meat, veggies, olives, and many other ingredients, served to your liking. Buying empanadas on the street is a regular practice here in Chile, and they are extremely cheap! Empanadas are a must for anyone visiting this beautiful country.

Of all the meals I have been served thus far, chorrillana is my personal favorite and my new obsession. Essentially, it is a massive pile of salty French fries loaded with glorious goodness. The fries are topped with juicy strips of beef, salchicha (they say it’s sausage, but I am 99% sure it’s just chopped up hot dogs), onions, and scrambled eggs. As if that weren’t delicious enough, chorrillana is always paired with mayo. Chileans value mayo like Americans value ranch, so I’ve learned that mayo can and does go well with absolutely everything. EVERYTHING.

EMPANADAS!
CHORRILLANA!