Entry #032: Monday, September 2, 2013 (Cape Town, South Africa)

I legitimately cannot believe it hasn't even been a full week since my last entry. With all that's happened, it seems like it's been such a long time...but we'll get into that. So yeah! Cape Town! I'm in it! And it's been one hell of an experience, for better and for worse. I'll say it upfront: Cape Town really is the amazing city that everyone builds it up to be. And my experiences here have been...interesting, to say the least.

So, I actually woke up a little bit early on Wednesday, purposely and for somewhat selfish reasons. I set my alarm for 5:50 (though I was using a previously-used alarm setting, which had no sound. Thankfully, the vibrations of it were enough to get me up), as I needed to check something before 6am. It was for this thing called the Game Music Bundle 5, which - as you may guess - was a bundle of different game soundtracks, which you can pay whatever price you want. The thing that makes it interesting is that there are pries for the top contributors. And I really liked the top prize on this one: you got (amongst other things) a two-minute custom theme song. If there has ever been an incentive that appealed to Andrew Schnorr, it was that. That said, I wanted to wait until the last moment possible, because I'd have to contribute at least $200 (the current top contribution), and the thought of being undercut and losing the money made my hair stand on end. So, I'd be the one doing the undercutting. And so, with literally four seconds before the sale ended, I added my contribution, and became the top contributor, sweeping that custom theme song into my grasp. I'm pretty sure Brad O'Hearne would be cursing my name right now if I hadn't been listed on the leaderboards as "Anonymous". So, look forward to me posting that theme song here whenever it gets finished.

Having successfully and somewhat underhandedly secured that, I immediately went back to sleep, but was awakened by Lynn within the hour, asking if I was ready to go. I guess there was a bit of miscommunication, as I was planning on heading there myself. Still, it was good that she woke me up, because it gave me the opportunity to give my thanks and say goodbye to her and her kids again. Let me just say, if any of you ever plan to go to Johannesburg, let me give you her contact details. When she left, I found out that the electricity in one corner of the house had stopped working (which would explain why my shower the night before had been tepid, and why the water was ice-cold that morning. Still, once I found a working plug, I ate breakfast and did some last-minute prep-work (though not really anything that ended up productive), and then, stuffing my leftover chicken from the day prior into my bag, I left at about 9:45 to head out of Johannesburg.

I walked my way over to the bus station, where I waited for about a half-hour until the Gautrain bus came (which is the bus that should take you directly to the Gautrain station). I looked up the prices, and apparently if you used your Gautrain gold card (which I had), you would pay 20 Rand if you didn't take a train within the hour, but only R6 if you did. The problem was, I had no balance on my card (since, y'know, I didn't want to waste money), and when I looked up how to refill your card online, I found out you couldn't, which is honestly pathetic in this day and age in one of the world's major metropolises. So, I just kept a R20 bill handy. Much to my surprise, though, the bus conductor told me that it was Gold Card only - no cash. He told me I should have topped up, though I don't think he understood when I explained that it wasn't worthwhile for a transient visitor like myself to have a balance. Still, he was not without compassion, and swiped his personal Gold Card in exchange for my R20 bill. Pretty decent move, that! Anyhoo, I got the train station, and after some wackiness (revolving around the fact that my train ride would cost only R20, but the automatic gates wouldn't let me onto the platforms unless my card had a minimum R25 balance), I finally got onto a train to Johannesburg Park Station.

Park Station seemed to be the transportation center of Johannesburg, with the Gautrain, some above-ground inner-city metro, and the long-distance trains all coming to a head. It was definitely not part of the same affluent part of Johannesburg as, say, Sandton. I didn't feel threatened or anything, but I definitely felt like it could be a logical place to feel threatened. The greater feeling for me now, though, was just a general confusion of where to go, seeing as there were signs pointing every which way which would lead you to nowhere. After asking a couple different guards, though, I finally found my way to the ticket office for the train I was getting on (though it could have just as easily been a setup for a mugging, as it was in the most remote corner of the station). After a brief wait, I got my ticket, walked to the train, and after meandering about, trying to figure out my compartment, was told by some Afrikaner that the list of sleeper assignments was in their office in the distance. After finding that, I made my way to my compartment. Despite my questionable navigational prowess, I managed to get on the train about an hour and twenty minutes before departure. In retrospect, I should have gone to a Pick-n-Pay and gotten some extra food, maybe some extra drinks as well. But I guess I figured that food would be included in the ticket price (after all, it was in Kenya). I also wasn't familiar with the area surrounding Park Station, so I didn't want to risk getting lost and then missing my train. But hey, live and learn!

In any case, when I got into my apartment, I saw that my roommate was already there. Damn, I thought, I was hoping to have this all to myself. Such a thought was pretty optimistic, especially for a train that only runs thrice weekly, so I wasn't really surprised to see someone else. At least it was only one, and I could still get a bottom bunk. My roommate was an old (born in '44), overweight black man named Thomas. I have to say, whenever I speak with black South Africans about my travels, I always feel immensely guilty. It hasn't been the case anywhere else, or with anyone else. I think it is because the racial issues and tensions here are as high as they are (trust me, if you think the US has race issues, it looks like a goddammed utopia compared to South Africa), but yeah, when I was talking to him about my travels, I tried to get off the subject of being white and having money, and talked about how it's a bit of a spiritual journey. He used this as a jumping-off point to tell me about his own religious beliefs (I think he was a member of the Apostolic Church?), and even though he was big on the idea that God comes from within (a seemingly progressive thought), he also had some points that I thought were a little kooky (God isn't an external being in Heaven because we haven't seen him in telescopes), some that were a bit ignorant (if we evolved from baboons, why are there still baboons) and some that were downright regressive (a woman should never invite people to her home - only the husband can do that). Now, I am 100% willing to have a solid debate with a person when I think they're wrong, but my willingness diminishes immensely when I can hardly understand them (due to age and a less-than-stellar grasp of English), so I found myself smiling and nodding more than I would have honestly liked to. This could very well be a long train ride.

My means of breaking the conversation was going to the bathroom (or pretending to, at least), and then coming back and reading from my Kindle. And I managed to get a lot of reading done during my time on the train. I finally - finally - finished the book that I started when I was heading down to Askari (mainly because I barely ever read it while I was there), which was Out of My Later Years, a collection of essays by Albert Einstein. While some of his ideas were harped on a bit (he was really big on setting up a world government), others were very insightful. In particular, I think his essays on the relationship between science and religion needs to be required reading by scientists and theologians alike. After finishing that (and eating my leftover chicken for lunch), I started on a book called The Shack, which apparently was a bestseller at some point. I only heard of it a few days ago, when the Czech boy at Askari finished and recommended it (he being an atheist interested in religion and religiosity, a standpoint I respect). I probably would have also been watching movies or something on my phone, except that the "Shavers Only" electrical outlet in our compartment didn't work, so I just shut my phone off (apparently, only compartment C in this car had a working outlet; tip to any potential train companies - working electrical outlets will make your customers love you).

Along the way, I began to feel a little wistful for Askari, thanks to a few triggers. I saw out the window at one point an ostrich running by, reminding me a bit of Rasputin back on Pidwa. Also, we've passed by an almost scary amount of large prickly pear patches. I almost felt the need to pull the emergency stop cord and go out with some herbicide and needles (neither of which I had on me, lessening the urge). But before too long, we got a third person in our compartment, a young guy (30, maybe?) named Otto. I found him much easier to speak with, mainly due to his clarity. He referred to himself as "colored", which he made sure to distinguish from being "black", an apparently important distinction which I'll have to look up later. He had also brought food and drink with him. A lot of drink, in fact: two six-packs, all for this one trip. But even that ran out before too long (partially because Thomas had begun helping him go through them), so when it was dinnertime, they headed to the dining car, whereas I stayed back in the compartment to keep watch over all our bags. During this time, I just kept on reading, as there was no light outside to see the surroundings. Finally, at 8:30, Otto came back and asked if I wanted them to send in a waitress to the compartment so I could order dinner. I accepted the offer, and tried to order the healthiest thing I could (since I should try to shed some of the pounds I gained at Askari): grilled chicken and veggies. When the food came back (after a suspiciously short amount of time), the waitress said, "We're out of veg." I looked in the container and saw that it was served with fries. At least I tried, I thought. After eating, I read a bit longer, and then went to bed at a completely indeterminable time. To save money, I had declined a blanket, which turned out to be a fine decision. On the whole, I had a fairly good sleep - it was warm when I began, so I didn't need anything, but even as the night got colder, I just had to put on my jacket and socks, and then cover my feet with my vest for extra warmth. Other than a couple moments waking up, I slept quite soundly.

I got up the next morning about 7:20 or so, which was much better (read: later) than I was expecting. Otto was out at the moment, and for some time, Thomas was, for all intents and purposes, badmouthing him for being a bit of a social butterfly ("He should have stayed drinking with me, but he then started talking to other people.") and also badmouthed the table that invited him over, because it was the woman, not the husband, who made the invitation. By 8:30, I decided I'd had enough reactionary old-man ramblings for the day, and so excused myself to go get breakfast. For less than $4.50, I guess it was a decent amount of food, but I'd say that on the whole, airline food has gotten a bad rap. All the food I've had on planes has been actually quite good, while the quality of African rail food, while not bad, is generally pretty bland.

I protracted my tea drinking to keep from going back to the compartment too soon. I used the opportunity to look out at the views. Having gotten away from the major urban areas, we were finally getting some picture-worthy views. As I've said in many of the places I've been, the landscape really reminds me of some parts of California. This part, in particular, reminded me of the hill-and-valley areas along the more rocky parts of The 5. Throughout the day, we also passed by a number of legit and occasionally snow-capped mountain ranges, including the "Draakenstein", meaning "Dragon Stone." which you have to admit is a pretty badass name. Unfortunately, there was a large amount of cloud cover along the way, and even some rain. (I was a bit concerned when I heard it was raining in Cape Town, though it is winter, so I guess some things are to be expected. My hope was just that it wasn't too bad.

I made my way back to the compartment when our train came to a stop. I asked where we were. "Prince Albert Road." I checked out the stop schedule. "...We were supposed to be here, like, an hour and a half ago." Within ten minutes, the conductor came in and confirmed that we were an hour-point-five late. This got me a little concerned, as I was supposed to be picked up by someone from the rental car place, and then make my way to the place I was renting a room by 4pm, which was now when the train was going to arrive. The conductor promised they'd try to make up the time, but you know how it is - words are easy to speak. I then sat down, and somehow got into another conversation with Thomas. Man, it's a good thing the old man was not in a compartment by itself - he'd literally have nothing to do except sit and stare. I tried to steer the conversation away from anything where he could be a conservative old man, which was only partially successful.

Eventually he decided to get up to go to the bathroom and then get some more drinks, so I used the opportunity to continue reading. I actually ended up finishing The Shack, which, despite what I would say is the author's inability to know what an actual person's reaction statement would be, is still worth a look at. I then spent some time alternating between looking at the view outside (which got pretty spectacular) and writing portions of this entry. All the while, Otto and Thomas were sharing a bottle of wine in another compartment (Thomas seemed to stop badmouthing Otto when the latter was the one providing the alcohol). Once we reached Worcester, Otto hopped off (a very amicable parting between us), and it was just Thomas and myself to Cape Town. This led to additional old man rants (clearly drink-enhanced by this time), including how I need to have a wife and four children by the next time we see each other, how Otto should have given us the rest of his beer, how poor kids with negligent parents make the best singers because their screaming so much as children opened their vocal cords, how technology is making everything too difficult to use ("If you get a car with a computer box in it, take it out and make it all manual. Computer box just cause problems."), and how you shouldn't do anything if doesn't have a profit. I actually did counter him on this last point, after I realized he literally meant everything you do should have a monetary profit. I explained that there are some things you do that won't earn you money - traveling the world, let's say - which give you an emotional and spiritual profit. No, he said, if you can't make money from it, then other people are making money from it, so it's not worthwhile. While I - technically - understand this mentality, it baffles me all the same.

Thankfully, Thomas went out to get some more to drink and, I think, spend some time with another old man he met in a different apartment. I used the reprieve to enjoy the scenery some more and do some additional reading. I started, and subsequently finished, yet another book (entitled [Citation Needed] 2), which is a bit of a cheat, because it's just comedic commentary on some poorly written Wikipedia entries, so it is exceptionally fast reading. Still enjoyable, though. I also found out that the train was getting more and more late every time I checked, so I sent some text messages to the car rental agency and the homestay I was supposed to meet up for, and prayed that they got it. In fact, by the time Thomas got off the train (one stop before Cape Town), we were almost two-point-five hours late. He had me help him get his bags off the train, and told me to give him my last ginger snap, because he wanted to hide the alcohol on his breath when he met his family. I did so and bade him farewell, though I was honestly glad to have the compartment to myself for the last half hour.

Or, make that 45 minutes. We couldn't even do the last leg on schedule, and so I ended up arriving in Cape Town at 5:45, three hours and fifteen minutes after I was supposed to. As soon as we got in the station, I looked for the guy who was holding a sign with my name on it, but he wasn't there, which didn't surprise me in the slightest. So, I tried going around to see if I could get Wi-Fi, which of course I could not. So then I tried calling the car rental agency using my international SIM card, but it didn't seem to work. All the while I'm being propositioned by taxi drivers, which I was told by basically everyone to avoid. Let's just say it wasn't going too smoothly. After walking out of the station, I walked to literally the only place I knew I could get some Wi-Fi - a McDonald's. It was actually something I intended to do anyway, to continue my "Eat the local food at a McDonald's", but I was surprised and disappointed to see that there were no local dishes, at least none that I could identify as being unique to South Africa. So, failing that, I just got some grilled chicken flatbread and tried getting my bearings. Thankfully, with the Wi-Fi, I was able to find the rental car office location, which was only about a 15 minute walk from the train station. So, I headed over that way. At first, I didn't see it, because it wasn't where it logically should have been according to the numbers. I did see a backpackers nearby, so worse came to worst, I could have an emergency place to stay for the night. But some aimless wandering did eventually get me to the rental car place, and thankfully they were still open for about 15 more minutes. They told me when I got inside that they were expecting me to call when the train arrived, so at least I tried to, eh?

They car rental agency also let me use their Wi-Fi so that I could set up navigation to the homestay I was going to for the evening (on Google Maps, you can always see where you are via GPS, but setting up a navigation route requires internet connection). I then set out on my way, immediately confusing the windshield wipers for the turn signals, because they're on opposite sides. I follow the outlined path as best I could, until I got to the freeway. Because at that point, the Google Maps voice stopped speaking, and instead just changed to these DINGs whenever it wanted you to do something. The thing is, I didn't realize this at first, and so I completely missed my turn-off. Now, remember what I said before - the navigation requires Internet access. So when things go wrong while you have no connection, it will not re-navigate for you. Thankfully - God, how thankful I am for this - I had cached the main part of the Google Maps Cape Town area to view offline. This used to be a normal thing in the Maps app, but now in the new version, it's more of an Easter Egg (you have to type "Okay Maps" into the search bar). At least with the cached map, I could use my phone as an old-style map where I could kind of figure out where I needed to turn. However, this help was diminished because, unlike in the US, none of the freeway entrances here say "North" or "South" or so. They just have town names, which if you're unfamiliar, doesn't help in the slightest. And thanks to Murphy's Law, every time I made a decision, it was the wrong decision, and I kept on getting further and further away from my destination. Oh, and then rain started pouring down on this dark night.

It was frustrating, lemme tell ya.

I finally got back onto roughly the correct path, simply by eventually finding a place to turn around and doing the opposite of all my prior choices, but still managed to make a mistake when I took an off-ramp onto Rhodes Ave, which is street my destination was on, but found out it was the wrong Rhodes Ave. I then tried to get back on the freeway, but found a dead-end instead of an onramp. So, I used my time in the dead-end to map out how to get to the place using surface streets. And this ended up working fairly well. And by that, I mean that it worked at all. After some time, I finally make it to the location. Fancier than I thought. I pull up to the gate, and look for the intercom. I don't see one, but I do see a sign that says, "VISA" on it, which puzzles me for a second. A man walks out of the building. "Can I help you?" he asks. I ask for Navine, and he seems confused. I then see a sign that says "VISA HOURS, 8:30-12:00", and it sinks in. This isn't the homestay. This is the Chinese Consulate where I needed to go to get my Chinese Visa. I immediately feel like bashing my head on the gate, but instead try to play it cool, and ask the guard some questions about the consulate hours, just so I don't seem like a complete moron. I then get back in my car and plan my next drive.

I had no possible Internet connection, so this would have to again be manual navigation. By the grace of God, I would only need to take surface streets to get to the homestay, which was about five or so kilometers away. So I rehearse the turns in my head, and drive, shimmying my almost-drained phone to keep it from turning off. Thankfully, there were very few curveballs, and I managed to make my way to the house. I found a completely soggy note on the gate, which told me to pick up a key from the neighbor. I did so, drove my car into the garage, and finally was where I needed to be for the night, only five hours after I was planning to be.


There were a few rooms open, so I took the one that had a heater in it. Unfortunately, there was only one outlet in the room, so I could either plug in my electronics or the heater, not both. Not that it really mattered, because I couldn't figure out how to make it work anyway. I muddled around for a bit until Navine, the owner of the house, came back. He was quite relieved to see me where I should be and in one piece, even though I had apparently taken the wrong room (as the one I chose was a slightly more expensive one in wait for another traveler coming next week). Navine offered me some dinner, so we sat down to some homemade soup, which was really quite good. All the while, we had a nice long conversation, regarding what an interesting place South Africa is, people-wise (and he actually noted that there's been a shift since Apartheid ended from people putting more focus on values to putting more focus on money, which reminded me of what Thomas had said earlier. He also told me of a number of the things I could do while I'm here, and the list seemed quite exhaustive. It's just a matter of getting around to them. Finally, we talked about his setup, and I asked him if he knew about CouchSurfing, since what he was doing was similar to that (except that he charged). He said he does that, but he doesn't let people stay for free. Should I have found him using CS, I would have reported him for that (charging is verboten for that), but I found him through a hostel search, so I can't really complain.

One of the issues I kind of faced, though, was that he didn't have Wi-Fi in his house. He just had a USB modem, which he gave to me as he went to bed. Unfortunately, it didn't work, so I couldn't do any sort of research for the days ahead. So instead, I...well, actually, I just clonked out. Seriously, I don't know what happened. I had some plans for stuff, but instead I found that it was early morning, I was half-drowsy and wholly-dressed, and my computer was still sitting on my bed. I don't know how I didn't roll over and crush it in my sleep. So, I decided to fall back asleep and woke up some time later, after Navine left for his work. I messed around for a bit, doing some reading and writing, showered, and then decided to, a little before 11am, head to the Chinese consulate in order to start processing my Visa.

I gathered all the necessary papers, photos, money, and my passport, and drove back to the consulate. I go in, give them everything, and the guy behind the glass looks at my passport. "Is this all you have?" he asks, pointing at my three-month stamp. "Yeah," I respond. "Sorry," he says, "We can't issue you a visa. You need to have a long-term visa or residency in South Africa for us to issue you the Chinese visa." Wait, what? What? WHAT?!? I asked him why it would even allow me to answer "No visa" on the supplementary application form. Why bother, why not just tell me that I can't get it in the application or the instructions (which neither did)? He told me I could get a visa either in the US or in Hong Kong, but it would still be about a four-day turnaround under normal circumstances.

You have no idea how scared this made me. I had a flight to China in ten days. This was my perfect setup. How could it have all fallen apart? I got back in my car and just started screaming in frustration, and then immediately started forming a plan for how I was going to get out of this. Basically, it all revolved around getting in contact with the American embassy and asking them what my options are. The problem was, I had no contact details, no Internet access, and we were coming up on a weekend. I realized that I needed to get a local SIM card in order to get some means of Internet access, even if I had to pay. Fact of the matter is, I couldn't be as cut off as I was. So, on my way back to the house, I stopped at the local mall, as I had to buy some breakfast cereal and other groceries anyway. I saw that there were some SIM cards available at the check stands, but they were either normal SIM cards (my phone needs a MicroSIM), or they were for CellC, which is the same company that Navine's USB Modem uses, and he swears that he will drop the first chance he gets due to its crappiness. Thankfully, there was also a Vodacom store in there, so I went in and asked for a SIM card. The guy starts looking for one, but then when I specified that it had to be a MicroSIM, he said they were out for the day and there'd be a new shipment tomorrow morning. So I was stuck there.

It was about lunchtime, so I grabbed some fish and chips to go (of which I threw two-thirds of the fries and all the fish batter away) and then headed back to the house. Along the way, I heard on the radio that there was snow on top of Table Mountain, which is apparently a big deal. I wanted to go, but was really not in a position to. I sent a text message to Navine, asking if he could get the American embassy phone number. He said he'd be back around 3pm or 4pm, so even if he couldn't send a message to me (which I guess he tried before, but I didn't receive), I could at least try calling the embassy when I got back. After doing that, I decided to bite the bullet and turn on mobile data for my international phone card (I figured it couldn't be any worse than the $10/Mb in Tanzania) hoping I could get some access on my own. But even then, my browser kept saying I was offline. I tried fiddling with some settings, but before long, it told me that I suddenly had no service at all.

Lemme just say, if there was ever a time on this trip where I felt defeated, it was this.

Thankfully, I got phone signal again, not that it actually gave me any mobile data, so I had made no progress there. I proceeded to mope around the house until Navine came back. I could have easily gone to town to wash my troubles away, but I really didn't want to miss him (he'd be leaving for the evening) and I really wanted to try calling the embassy before the weekend started. I also began mentally prepping myself for the possibility that I would need to delay my flight to China if all went wrong. He got back around 4:30, and I asked him for whatever information we could glean. He tried looking in the phone book for the US embassy number, but when he couldn't find it, got out his computer. While the USB modem wouldn't work at all for me, it simply worked horribly for him, and so he just barely was able to get to the contact page before the connection gave out. I tried calling the number, but my phone just wouldn't let the call get through. I really needed to get a South African SIM card. So, Navine lent me his phone, and I called. I couldn't tell if they were out for the day, or if they just usually don't answer the phone, but their message was the longest, slowest, and least helpful I'd heard in some time. Basically, unless I was dead or arrested, they said I had to schedule an appointment. But because the modem was not working, I couldn't actually get on the appointment page. And then Navine had to leave to attend to his plans for the evening. I saw him off, and then figured out my own.

I decided to drive out to Long Street, which is one of the more active spots of the city, especially for the relatively younger crowd. I managed to get there while only getting lost once (which was admittedly a pretty stressful situation, as it involved being surrounded and trapped by a bunch of minibuses). There were a variety of shops and stuff there, and I think I'd be interested to walk along during the daytime. But there were also a metric ton of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs (and strip clubs, as I was repeatedly told by a number of guys on street corners). After taking a brief break in an Internet cafe, I walked up and down to see what I'd want for dinner that night. I saw a place with Mexican decorations, but when I saw that there was no actual Mexican food, decided to look elsewhere. I then saw an Irish pub, which got me quite excited. I went in and looked at the menu. Nothing about it seemed Irish. Even their "Irish Nachos" were iffy: tortilla chips, cheese, chilies, avocado, bacon, sour cream. How is that Irish? Why didn't a single menu item include potatoes? I promptly left that place and went to a pizza spot. I realized then how long it's been since I've had pizza. Italy, I think? Definitely three months, at least. I got a really tasty gourmet tomato, rocket, and avocado pizza, and used their free Wi-Fi to make an appointment at the US consulate for Tuesday (I would have preferred Monday, but what can you do?). My God, it's useful having Internet access.

During this whole evening, I realized how much easier it is to have these kinds of nights out when you have at least one other person. I don't have difficulty speaking with people, but there weren't very many folks who didn't seem to already have a group dynamic going. This is especially the case when you want to play pool (which I often do). You usually don't want to play by yourself (at least, not unless you're really skilled), and it's hard to find someone who wants to play who doesn't already have an opponent. But I digress. I found my way into the nightclub with the loudest, most interesting music, but found that when I got in there, it was pretty...not happenin', despite it being a Friday. I guess the fact that it was raining pretty hard on and off didn't help, nor did the fact that it was only 8:30. After finishing my "see-I'm-not-a-deadbeat" soda, I left that place and went to the bar literally across the street, which seemed much more alive (and had pool tables). I got in there, bought my obligatory drink, and then just meandered, trying to fish out people who were missing a pool partner, and when that didn't work, I just stood in one of the standing areas, sipping my drink while people watching (which included one completely wasted guy failing repeatedly to hit the cue ball, a guy performing bar tricks, and two girls making out randomly in the corner).

I did eventually think to start a solo game of pool. I was fine when I saw that it cost R5 for a game (almost everywhere else I've been, though, it was R2), but when they told me I had to pay R20 to rent a cue ball, I said no thanks to that noise. So instead, I just walked out to the balcony, where I saw a guy standing there solo. I nodded at him, he returned it, and then he commented on the rain. I asked how long it's been like that, and he said on and off for a week or two. He then asked me where I was from, and I explained my world trip. "I gotta ask," he said, "Don't you just want to %#@^ a &#$$% in every country you go to?" Oh, goody, I picked a winner here. The conversation continued for a while, and I tried to keep it on myself, not just because I'm a narcissist, but because I didn't like hearing his story. I forget if I've mentioned it on this blog, but I have this...thing where people will just divulge themselves to me. With no provocation, they'll tell me life stories and deep secrets. Such was the case with this guy when I asked, "What do you do?" He went on about how he did computer engineering for some major South African tech company, but six years ago was doing meth at home while browsing pornography on the Internet, and then apparently accidentally went on to an FBI trigger site (you can guess what that might be), at which point his company got wind of it (from the FBI? I wasn't going to ask for clarification), and fired him, and now he can't get a normal job, so now he's trying to sue the company (for not enlisting a doctor who could have vouched that the guy was on drugs and thus not of clear mind) for 700 million Rand (~$70M), at which point he'd leave South Africa for good. So, yeah, a paragon of integrity, this guy. I used the ol' "I'm-meeting-someone-down-the-street" excuse to leave, and then figured I was done for the night. I probably would have stayed to dance in that bar for twenty minutes or so, but didn't want Johnny Charming to see that I was flat-out lying to him (nor hurt anybody with my moves).

I walked back to the car, again waving away anybody trying to get me into a strip club while trying to stay as dry as possible. One guy who walked past me shouted either "Hey guy, wassup?" or "Hey guy, you suck!" I genuinely don't know which, and I'm not sure which would make more sense in context. I hopped in and drove home. I don't think I took the most efficient route, but I never had to turn around, so that means I'm improving! I relaxed in the house until Navine came back, and he told me that when he was having dinner with his friends, one of his close aunts died. Yeesh! So he spent some of the evening with his family, and apparently the burial would be the next day. He still wanted to do some stuff with me that evening, because he said he didn't want to spend the whole day mourning like the rest of his (apparently more religious family). He then went to bed, and after a time, so did I.

The next day, I took another grocery shopping trip, this time to get ingredients for a dinner that I would be having with Navine and some of his friends. We were each supposed to be cooking a dish. I decided that I was going to make a Mexican Chicken "Salad" (quotations used for the dubiousness of the term usage), which was one of my favorite meals at Askari, and not too difficult to do. While I was there, I went to a nearby Telecom office and, lo and behold, the had some MicroSIM cards. After some difficulty getting the slot open, we popped it in, and I suddenly had a South African phone number. I was also pretty lucky in my timing, because they were having a deal on data bundles, with prices being one-eighth what they normally were (there was some kind of drawback, but it didn't affect me at all). I bought myself a 20GB bundle, and suddenly, all my Internet problems were solved! ...Except, not immediately, because for some reason the mobile data on my phone wouldn't kick in. I figured it just needed some time to activate, so I drove home with another whole, cooked chicken and some veggies (did I mention I bought another whole, cooked chicken), and had a portion of that for lunch. I swear, <$5 chickens are the best. Anyway, when an hour passed and nothing changed, I drove back to the Telecom office, and the super-helpful clerk was able to fiddle with some settings (I should have asked which) and voila! It worked. Now all my Internet problems were solved. (And seriously, having Internet access on your phone at a moment's notice is a luxury that I now totally appreciate.)

I decided to use the opportunity to take a drive to the Cape Town airport to take a stab at one potential means of fixing my visa issue. I thought that perhaps I could get in contact with their immigration office, and literally just ask for them to give me a SA visa, so then I could get the Chinese one. Unfortunately, when I got to the information booth, they told me that the immigration office was on the other side of the security gate. So instead, I got their contact numbers, none of which were answered when I called. Oh, well.

Since I was already out and about, I decided to go to the Waterfront area. The drive there was quite wet and stormy, but by the time I arrived and got out of my car, the sun came out, so that was good. I mainly just spent my time walking around, looking at the various shops, taking pictures, enjoying the sights and sounds, and thinking how well planned this city is - they always say Cape Town is a world-class city, and it seems clear to me that it was specifically manicured as such. Although tempted a few times, I didn't buy anything except a boba (bubble milk tea), which I don't think I've had since college. I also considered going to the aquarium, but it was nearly 4pm by that time, and I needed to get back to prep for the dinner, so I left it for another time. I was a little perturbed when I had to pay twice for my parking (because I was too slow in getting to my car, I suppose), but felt a little better when it started raining as I drove home. It's nice when the weather favors you.

I got back to the house, and shortly afterward, I gathered my ingredients, and we headed over to Navine's friend Sharon's place. It was there that I found out I'd been duped - whilst I had brought proper ingredients for a proper cooking experience, the others had simply bought pre-made foods. Well, whatcha gonna do except cook? So, I cooked my food, which captured everyone else's interest, I think mainly because they'd never seen a recipe like it before (even though it hardly seemed exotic to me). I then received an almost uncomfortable amount of compliments for it during the meal, and everyone was trying to remember the recipe by heart, even though I said I'd just email it to them. Aside from that, the evening was just spent conversing, about myself, my travels, and stuff unrelated to me at all. One kind of weird note is that one of the ladies I was with said, when we were parting ways for the evening said, "I'll always remember you for your dancing," which I just found kind of strange, seeing as I had just talked about how I have an excitable dance; I never actually demonstrated it or anything. But still, a good evening was had by all.

My adventures with Navine's friends continued on Sunday. I had set my alarm to wake me up, but unfortunately neglected to see that it was still set to only go off on weekdays. Thankfully, my biological clock saw fit to wake me up 10 minutes before I was to head out. I drove out and met up with Leon, a...if I have this right...Taiwanese-born guy, who considers himself American and went to UCI, but has lived in South Africa for the last fifteen years. We were going out (and by "we" I mean us two, Leon's wife and two kids, his brother and brother's wife and two kids, Leon's mother, and a couple of friends. We needed two vans) to see flower fields up the West Cape Coastline. Folks were initially skeptical because it was a gloomy looking day, but I said I was optimistic that it would clear up for us, just like it did for me yesterday.

The place we were going to was about 100km away from Cape Town proper, so it was a nice, long, scenic drive. The one thing about stormy weather is that when it's not actually storming, it makes the best clouds, which make for great pictures (which are then marred by the fact that you're taking said pictures through a tinted car window). And the western coast is just a generally beautiful, lush area. One thing the long drive also produced was not an insignificant amount of "are we there yet" from the kids in the car. (I didn't know they really do that.) Along the way, the cars pulled over for a bathroom break at the most mysterious tourist...I dunno what you'd call it, a tourist checkpoint? A place where there's a restaurant, a gift shop, and some minor attractions. Well, at this place not so minor - it had huge signs saying "See our lions and panther and tigers" (note that the latter two are not indigenous). However, when we went in, all we could see were hundreds of caged birds (most of which were also not indigenous). But no big cats. Apparently they existed (and belonged to the guy who owned the place, which was just an eccentric Afrikaner), but we couldn't find them. And they sold a lot of jams. A lot. But I digress.

We eventually made it to the Western Coast National Park, and stopped at a lagoon beach to have a picnic lunch. I wasn't expecting this at all, so it was a nice surprise. It also gave me an opportunity to complain about the fact that even though they call chips "crisps", it still says "potato chips" on their local potato chips. After this, we continued driving around the national park, stopping at every flower field we could find. It actually started fairly drab, until the sun really came out (see, I knew it would) and got the flowers to open up and show their colors. This was a perfect opportunity to really use my camera's macro function, which I have used before, but not really well. And I must say, once you get the trick down, the shots look great. Like, really great. A couple of the pictures I got, with raindrops on flower petals, are almost wallpaper-worthy. So I was quite pleased with that. We also stopped by a rocky shore with crashing waves, very similar to what you'd in central-to-northern California or Hawaii. And then we got to a high vista point where we could see a good view of the ocean and nearby towns before the kids finally convinced everyone that they really wanted to go home.

So, we made our way back to Leon's house, stopping at that mysterious tourist stop again for coffee. Along the way, I called the shark cage diving company to get confirmation that my trip was the next day. Nope, never booked, despite me emailing them since the 22nd. And they had no spots for the rest of the week, but were nice enough to book me with another company for Wednesday. Also along the way, we were amazed how the little boy couldn't remember my name, despite everyone reminding him for the past eight hours what it is (and despite the fact that "Andrew" is still among the top ten names in terms of popularity). When we got back to the house, the kids immediately wanted to play Disney Infinity on their Xbox (which is just a Skylanders knockoff). I didn't mention anything, but this was the first time in months that I'd seen a video game being played in front of me. It felt...odd. Familiar, yet distant. Kind of created a bit of wistfulness. I also really wanted to just bring out an arcade stick and play some Street Fighter.

After speaking with the adults for about an hour more, I took my leave and drove back to Navine's place. I ate some of my Mexican Mix (we'll call it a mix) leftovers, and then did some more research into the Chinese visa thing. Unfortunately, I saw a notice on the Chinese embassy website that wasn't there when I originally downloaded the application, which said that having a visa in a country that you're not a national in isn't good enough; you need proof of permanent residency or temporary residency lasting at least an additional six months after you apply. Obviously, I can't get either of those, so my whole going-to-the-airport-immigration-office plan, while still clever, would ultimately be unsuccessful. In any case, I conversed with Navine when he got back, and then went to bed for the night.

Today was actually a fairly long day for me, despite only doing two things, really. After getting myself situated for the day, I grabbed my obsidian stone and drove out to the home of the jeweler I'd been in contact with for some time. (He lived in a section of town called "Panorama", which, upon seeing an amazing view of Table Mountain from his home, I absolutely understood.) We talked about it for a bit, but agreed on making a bracelet out of the thing, made of a dark brown leather with an unpolished, matte-brushed silver holding the stone in place. I'm also looking into having my summit date engraved into it in Roman numerals. It's not the cheapest souvenir (and considering the fact that it involves custom labor costs, I can understand this, and it's still a third the price that some of the jewelers were quoting), but it will definitely be one of the most personal ones I have on this trip. That's actually one of the things I noticed. I'm not buying any souvenirs, but rather taking them and putting forth effort to make them mine - the obsidian stone, Tiberius, etc. Does that say anything about me? Or does it just mean I don't want wooden animal salad spoons.

After that, I drove directly to Table Mountain, the picturesque thousand-meter mountain in the center of the Cape Town area. I had prepped for a nice climb - I still had that Pick-n-Pay chicken, as well as some crackers and cheese to eat, I put on my long-johns in case it got really cold, and I brought extra layers along. Thankfully, it was a beautifully clear day, as compared the the last several; I really couldn't have chosen a better day to do this. That said, having the sun out meant that my long-johns were actually not the best idea. Especially on the uphill portion. There's a cable car that can go both up and down, but it cost R100 each way, and really, why bother when you have the time to walk. Well, I'll give you one reason - this is one steep hike. Even though the rocks on my path formed a pretty good staircase, they were big steps, occasionally requiring me to use all four limbs to get up. And then the melting snow increased the amount of water flowing down. This was actually pretty nice to splash on your face, but it also meant the rocks were slippery. And when you got closer to the top of Platteklip Gorge, the wind kicked up with a vengeance, and could easily push you off if you weren't careful. There was apparently a new story just this past week about a young guy (younger than me) who fell to his death in a crevasse in Table Mountain. After feeling the winds, I can understand why.

But yeah, going up this made me feel super out of shape, which is probably because I'm super out of shape, and need to get training again before going up to Everest Base Camp. I do think I pushed myself a little hard when I was starting out, though - I tried going too fast, tiring  myself out. I had to remind myself what all the guides on Kilimanjaro told me: "Poley poley." While it was upsetting seeing some middle-aged guys running up barefoot, slowing yourself down really can make a difference, and also lets you enjoy the scenery more. And my, what scenery there was! I think I took more panorama shots with my camera on this mountain than I have in all other points of my trip. It's just...no matter which way you're looking, there's something spectacular to see.

After about two, maybe two-point-five, hours, I reached the general top crossroads, and continued meandering around. I took a path called "Smut's Trail" (false advertising), which took me quite a distance (very wet and muddy, but thankfully little incline), surrounding me with a chorus of frogs, which I was honestly not expecting to hear. And man, the wind, the wind. I thought it was bad coming up, but here it was so intense that the gusts would literally blow you back as you were walking forward. Still, I continued going until I reached this thing called "Maclear's Beacon", which was used for geologic triangulation. It also seemed like the highest point of the mountain (I later confirmed it was, at 1087 meters). So, to make sure I was as high as I could go, I climbed up to the top of the mound that the actual beacon was on, and I could see everything. It was pretty awesome.

I ate a late lunch, and then decided to walk back down, even though I was really low on water (my bottle didn't even hold a liter), mainly because I got my second wind...and I didn't want to pay. I tried rationing the water, trying to make up for it by splashing cold rushing mountain water on my face (and regretting that I hadn't brought my water sanitation wand with me). The trek down only took about an hour, and as you'd imagine it, was easier for every part of my except my knees. On each of my 30-second breaks, I could really feel that I got sewing machine legs. But I made it down safe and sound, and even found a R20 bill just lying on the path, which paid me back for the money I donated to the guy "guarding" my car, so that was a nice surprise. I eventually got to the car, and then took a nice scenic drive along the coastline (partly because I didn't have a choice; the road off the mountain just goes to the coast), and then navigated my way back home just before I ran out of battery on my phone from all the navigatin'.

When I got back, I met the two additional guests who would be staying with Navine through Friday, William and...ugh, I can't remember the girl's name (it's a native Zimbabwe name). But regardless of names, they seemed very nice, and we eventually all sat down to a nice dinner with Navine (though I mostly just polished off what Mexican Mix leftovers I still had), which ended up being a good, long conversation (with tea) about everything from taxes and education to graham crackers.

I swear to God, I will make sure every person in every country becomes aware of graham crackers.

And so yeah, what an weird week. I still have other things to do in Cape Town - including figuring out how (and when) I'm going to get out of here, but there'll also be some more, y'know, fun stuff there too. So let's see how the next few days go, because I genuinely don't know how that will be.

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