Friday, January 31, 2014

Sweet (Pea) Memories

 I am quite sensitive to smells. Perfume, candles, incense, reheated fish, burning trash, smoke of any kind, etc. give me almost instant headaches. I am similarly affected by positive (to me) smells, some of which evoke strong memories for me. One of these smells is, oddly enough, Sweet Pea Foaming Hand Soap by Bath and Body Works. One whiff, and I'm transported back to 2005 in Cape Town, South Africa, starting my second semester of grad school...

My good friend B and I were renting a cottage in Newlands, but we had to wait a few weeks for it to be ready for occupation. After abandoning a dark, damp hostel that came perilously close to breaking B's spirit, we found a sunny, spacious flat in Green Point in walking distance to the main thoroughfare and the V&A Waterfront and in commuting distance to UCT.

Our first major task was to buy a car since our cottage would not be safe to walk to/from school from. Plus we'd both lived in Cape Town without a car before, and we were over it. After realizing even the most junker cars were out of our budgets, we went for the option we'd both sworn we wouldn't stoop to: Best Beetle. Cape Town is home to thousands of old VW Beetles, and this one enterprising company fixes them and rents them for pretty cheap, all insurance and repairs included. Break down? No problem, the tow truck will bring you a replacement car while yours is in the shop. Decent deal, except the cars are gaudily painted, rife with advertisements, and they break down quite a bit. We turned down the first car they gave us, a red monstrosity with some energy drink's logo plastered all over it. We settled on car #2, a sporty yellow number with just the Best Beetle logo.

The next task was to teach B how to drive a standard, which we accomplished in the parking lot of Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on a weekday afternoon. Soon we were going to all the places we'd just heard about when we'd lived in Cape Town without a car - Bloubergstrand, malls on the other side of town, the casino, etc.

We spent our evenings while living in Green Point walking around the neighborhood, grabbing a bite to eat at the Italian deli/market, and then settling in to watch Sex and the City, the entire series of which I'd recently procured on DVD.

Once we moved to Newlands into our heavenly Lemon Tree Cottage, a mother-in-law house adjacent to our landlord's house on a small compound, we continued with this tradition at least a couple nights a week. We made it through SATC and Friends in the first few months of the semester and then had to start settling for whatever was on the TV.

This was the first time I ever had my own bathroom, and it was absolutely perfect for us, with our bedrooms/bathrooms on opposite sides of the house so we had our own space. We even had a couple of cats who would sometimes hang out on our back porch when they were bored of the main house. True to its name, our cottage had a beautiful lemon tree right outside, and it was usually bursting with fruit.

That was an idyllic time, at least in memory, and B and I still love to tell stories and recount memories of it. From close encounters with cheetahs, penguins, elephants, and ostriches, we traveled the length and breadth of the country (though not in our VW Beetle!) and entertained several visitors from home. We went pony trekking in Lesotho, survived the epic spider invasion of 2005, and had numerous dance parties. In addition to our grueling graduate studies, we also volunteered a few times a week at an orphanage in Khayelitsha, becoming familiar enough in the neighborhood to have everyone stop and wave as we drove by in our yellow bug.

Our cottage was also occasionally a makeshift infirmary, when we'd bring home kids for a night or two who were sick enough not to risk exposing them to the rest of the orphanage but not sick enough for the hospital. We got really good at running back and forth from school so someone was always at home with our 'patient' and experienced our first tastes of parenthood with 3am baths when a toddler woke up vomiting. We learned how to give three year olds ARVs, and our hearts melted when the kids cuddled up to us while reading books together.

All throughout, I had my trusty Sweet Pea soap in my bathroom. I'd brought a large supply after realizing it didn't give me a headache - no small feat. For whatever reason, after coming back to the U.S. I didn't use the soap for a couple of years. The next time, though, that I used that soap the warm memories of Cape Town 2005 came flooding back. I am so glad that this scent-memory hasn't dissipated over time, but I try to rotate Sweet Pea with the other few soaps I can use so I don't overdo it. When I opened a brand new bottle of it this week, there again were all these memories. It's nine years on, and I still cherish this reliable little reminder of such a happy time.

This was clearly soon after we moved in because the plants are still thriving.


So many lemons!

Our sweet back porch

Our Best Beetle

Lemon Tree Cottage

The pool was always freezing cold, but it was nice to have in the backyard.

Our bug, our street, and a lovely rainbow

There's my beloved Sweet Pea soap! I love that I actually took a picture of it...

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Murchison Falls - Day 1

I know I haven't written about R&R yet, but I want to get the safari up on the blog before the memories start to fade, so bear with the out of order.

A few months ago my friend S emailed our friend E and me to ask when would be a good time to visit E Africa.  I have to say I had been skeptical she'd make it out here, but here we were discussing dates.  E, who lives in Kenya, had never been to Uganda, and I couldn't take any more time off, so Uganda it would be.  Then our friend A emailed to say she was interested too, and there were the makings for our very own 10 year college reunion in Kampala!

They arrived on Thursday afternoon and were at my apartment when I got home from work.  We had a joyful reunion (we hadn't all been together since 2004!) and caught up and then headed to bed in hopes of getting over jet lag (I'd only been back a few days myself).

I had to work the next day so went in early, and they met me at the Embassy at 11, and off we went on a weekend trip to Murchison Falls!  Another friend from Kampala joined us, and the five of us set off with our dedicated driver and safari van.  The trip to our first destination, Chobe Lodge, would take about 5 hours.  We chatted intermittently, watched the scenery, and napped.  After a rest stop about halfway through I switched to a seat in the back more conducive to chatting.

The road was mainly well paved, though there were a lot of dusty construction areas.  As we started approaching the park we pulled over where about a dozen people were standing at the side of the road watching an elephant grazing in the bush a few meters away.  Cue the cameras!  It was S's first safari after all :-).

We passed the spectacular Karuma Falls on the Nile River and soon encountered a large troop of olive baboons.  They were more than accommodating as we watched them, marveling at their behaviors and features.  One particular female in estrus caught our attention as she sought attention from some of the males, who willingly reciprocated.  The circle of life.

We turned off towards the park entrance, and the 14 or so km dirt road yielded some decent game sightings - giraffe, kob, waterbuck, and lots of monkeys.  We stopped at UWA headquarters to pay our park fees, and then we were in!  We proceeded a bit farther to the Chobe gates, where the guards warned us a couple of elephants were grazing just inside.  We entered the gates and almost immediately saw the two elephants, just adjacent to the lodge's parking lot!

We happily exited the van at reception and were greeted by warm towels, fresh juice, and a gorgeous view of the Nile.  The lodge was actually much nicer than I had expected, and I was very pleasantly surprised.  We checked in and then were driven to our tents.  As always, tent is a misnomer, as these had permanent canvas structures on a cement foundation with attached bathrooms and porches.  S and I shared a tent, which was gorgeously appointed and came with another gorgeous view.  We settled in and then walked back to the main lodge to relax.  We passed a bunch of monkeys and warthogs and saw the elephants from a safe distance.  I booked a massage, and S headed to the pool complex.

My massage was long and not particularly good, sadly, and by the end of it I was watching the clock and willing it to end.  I knew I was a bit late to meet the ladies for dinner and I was getting anxious.  Finally it ended, I dressed, and I headed out to walk up to dinner.  The attendant said there was a golf cart waiting because it was no longer safe to walk because of the hippos.  I thought this was just being overly cautious until about 30 second after I got onto the golf cart.  Right in front of us was a big old hippo, munching away on grass right in our path.  S/he didn't move, so the driver got out and clapped his hands and yelled, and eventually the hippo meandered away and we headed on to the main building.

I apologized for being late and related my hippo encounter and ordered from the very nice menu.  We were sitting outside overlooking a lawn adjacent to the Nile, and there were quite a few hippos grazing on the lawn, including a number of babies.  They entertained us between courses as we tried in vain to get good photos and cooed over the babies.

Dinner was delicious, the service was impeccable, and we had a really great time.  As dessert was served we heard a commotion and looked up to see the entire kitchen staff coming out with impromptu instruments (pots, pans, spoons, etc.) and singing for A's birthday.  She got an extra dessert which we all shared, and we had a good laugh as the hippos all booked it back into the water at the commotion.  We realized the banging on pots and loud voices must be what they use to scare them away!

On the golf cart ride back to the tent we encountered yet another grazing hippo, though not quite on the path this time.  I took a few photos which were only partially successful, but a fun sighting nonetheless.  The airstrip, which is steps from the lodge, revealed dozens of shining eyes in the headlights - a herd of sleeping kob.  We settled into the tent and showered and fell asleep to the lovely sound of rushing water around us.  What an absolutely wonderful first day!

Karuma Falls

Olive Baboon

Welcome elephants
View from our tent.


Gorgeous Nile

The tents
What a view!

Not great quality, but hippo!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Almost February?

I'm not quite sure how it got to be January 26th, honestly.  I have yet to blog about R&R, but there's a very good reason - the week I got back to Kampala three lovely college friends came for a visit, and we've been much too busy having fun and exploring Kampala and Uganda to allow me time to blog. Plus, work. But there are some fun things to blog about, so watch this space.  Spoiler alert: leopard makes an appearance, at long last.