A January summer in South Africa!

Photo Album from South Africa here

I was a bit burned out from the past 4 months. Since August, I had no races in the near horizon to look forward to, so my training was going through a blase-motivation phase. Hopping on my trainer and swimming 4-to-a-lane with all the other resolution-setters just lost all sense of fun, and winter training is always a bit cold and depressing.

I made one of the best decisions in 2012 and went back to school - but 7 years out of school is enough to make anyone forget how to study, write anything academic, or conduct regressional analysis! My brain was utterly fried, and it didn't help that my part-time job was spent trying to figure out some data-mining software that I wanted to smash with a hammer when it wouldn't pop out clean numbers.

Man, did I ever need a reason to escape for a couple of weeks! 

Visiting Africa Jam in Khayelitsha
American University has a great program called Alternative Break trips - immersion programs that allow students to partner with community initiatives.

South Africa was a no-brainer: the program studied the social justice issues of gender equality, youth empowerment, and HIV/AIDs.

Plus, I could spend my first 2 weeks of January in summer bliss! Yes, please!

The first two days in Johannesburg were filled with museum visits and basically gaining a solid understanding of apartheid and the culture and history of South Africa. Jo'burg isn't particularly appealing - I spent most of my 2 days there hot and sweaty, wishing I could just dive into an ocean, and slowly overcoming jetlag.

South African cuisine at its finest: springbok!

By far, the highlight of Johannesburg was eating at Moyo. Fantastic flavors and I'd splurge there on a meal again and again!

I'm not particularly keen on museums and big, boring cities, so I'll fast forward to the fun part...
Samaki Kavu (fish in Malay curry) with a side of some creamy concoction of peanut-pumpkin mash!
Moved on to the wonderful city of Cape Town. This is what I'm talking about! Cape Town has an absolutely gorgeous setting - Table Mountain in the background and a nice sea breeze (or tornado-like gusts, if the wind picks up!)...boy, I am starting to sound like I'm in a Nicholas Sparks book!

Table Mountain - towering over the entire Cape Town!

You can't see the pain on our faces, but that sand
ripped our skin apart! 
First day in Cape Town, we went to Cape's Bay Beach. Someone reported that the winds reached 60mph!

It was so cold, and absolutely horrible conditions for a relaxing day at the beach, but a few of us braved it and tip-toed in!

Shannon, Stephanie, and me trying to brave the cold Atlantic waters...
We also made sure to celebrate New Year's Eve in style with some Appletiser, South Africa's bubbly beverage of choice :)

I spy Desmond Tutu! 
Our two weeks in Cape Town were spent visiting communities, implementing small projects, and learning about South Africa's social justice issues in the wake of apartheid. 

A visit to Desmond Tutu's in Soweto! 

Visiting Nelson Mandela's house in Soweto township! 

We rocked the dance floor and got to jam out to some good African drum music on our visit to the Khayelitsha township, where we spent the day with Africa Jam!  

Taking a stroll around Robben Island, the site for political prisoners such as Nelson Mandela and Jacob Zuma:

Of course, our van had to give out on one of our journeys to a township...while waiting for the van to be towed off, I got to join in a pick-up game of soccer with some 5-year-olds who used an empty 2-L soda bottle as their soccer ball! 

Soccer game in the streets! These rascals had some skillz! 
And, then it suddenly hit me: I turned THIRTY. The big third decade crept up on me, and there I was, sitting in my boxers in our Cape Town hostel and recovering from a hike out to Cape of Good Hope, when that wonderful aroma of chocolate cupcakes with warm vanilla icing wafted through the air...

Thanks to my wonderful trip-mates for staying up late and baking me mini cakes!
and although this message wasn't written for me, I thought it quite serendipitous that on my birthday, as I hiked from Cape Point to the Cape of Good Hope, I stumbled upon this "Happy Birthday!" message written in the sand!!!

From the sea to MEEEE!!!!
Our South Africa group! 
My new coworkers...enjoyed scooping out the pints!
I also must mention that I was hired for a (very) short-term, temporary position at Haagen-Dazs in Cape Town.

I was thrilled when the manager said that he had never seen someone smile so much at the sight of ice cream at 10am! 

Township visit in South Africa
I have to admit that I didn't miss tri training one bit. I found a running trail about a 1/2 mile from where we were staying, and found solace in going for a run before everyone else had woken up. I also got to spin the wheels on a rusty mountain bike in a township!

The saddle kept twisting, so I couldn't really ride it without an awkward clinching of the thighs, but I don't think these boys had ever seen a girl ride before! They told me I would fall off, and I was proud to prove them WRONG.

After all, as H.G. Wells said: "Let me tell you about bicycling. It has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance...the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood." I absolutely love that quote, even though it's more than a century old!

I'm not going to ramble about our township visits, short-term work with the communities, or learning exchanges with organizations that work on the ground with those affected by HIV. But maybe this video of some grannies from the organization Grandmothers Against Poverty and AIDS (GAPA) can show the welcoming hospitality of the entire South African community!

A few more highlights from the trip:
  • Shannon Carey and I were absolutely obsessed with doing yoga poses everywhere we went! 
Table pose at Table Mountain! 

At Oudekraal beach!
Shannon at Lion's Head!
Crow pose at Lion's Head! 
  • I found my life motto at a market in Cape Town...

  • Oh my...utter bliss and sugar highs when we found this bakery! Charly's Bakery had the most colorful cupcakes and cheesecakes! 

  • A Xhosa cooking lesson from Ivy, who attempted to teach us the clicks of the Xhosa language (which just left me slobbering all over the food)

  • My three favorite South Africans I met on this trip:
A grannie I shared a conversation with
that was pure laughter.

Chris taught me South African hop-scotch,
and Gracie gave me the best hugs ever! 
  •  And the vistas of Cape Town are absolutely stunning, whether you're hiking or paragliding or trying not to pee your pants! 

Our flight back took 44 hours. No joke. 44 hours, but I at least got to escape into Paris for 2 hours during our layover! 

Opera House in Paris
Almost...as tall...as the Eiffel! 

Sunrise over the Seine! 

Hey! Capital Bike Share in Paris! 
Croissants and Cappucinos, wi wi, bonjour, nom nom! 
We match!
And now, I'm back in DC! Spring semester has started, and I'm working for my dream organization, the UN Refugee Agency, this semester! I have to admit that I was quite thrilled to come home - I always miss my bed, Bart, and cooking and baking in my kitchen! 

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