For some reason this morning, either the loud downpour of rain or the shouts of drunk international students returning home, I am awake early and unable to return to the warm comfort of sleep. I know that I am still very excited to be here. Now, the early morning birds are chirping away outside my window (a more pleasant noise than the get-to-bed students).

When we arrived, the IAPO (International Academic Programs Office) people (called green shirts because of their distinctively visible lime green uniform t-shirts) brought us from the airport to Kopano, a vacation dormitory on the lower UCT campus. The rooms are a touch rudimentary, with bare wood furnishings, a padlock for your door, and a surprisingly comfortable cot. The toilets smell like toilets. The walls are quite thin. Still, each room is a single occupant, so my first couple nights did not need to navigate sharing a sleeping space with a stranger. Small blessings.

While preparing for this trip, I applied for my housing through Ida Cooper Associates. Ida Cooper is the grand dame of student accommodation in Cape Town. Her minions, a wonderfully friendly and helpful bunch, have been taking us around to get our bearings, set up cell phones, take those who need it to currency exchanges, and the like. It turns out, to my surprise, that Ida only contracts with certain foreign universities...it explains why I was pulled away from the pack of UW and UofM students I arrived with to go do other things. It is a bit like receiving the VIP treatment among the internationals.

So, Lynray, Kaveh, Sita, Adam, Jez, and Menzi have been doing this marvelous job getting us situated.

This morning we will be moved out of Kopano to our semester housing arrangements.

Yesterday, those of us who had already arrived the day before were taken on a brief walking tour of Cape Town. Along the way, we were given some history as well as tips for operating in South Africa. We took the train into the city, something that is alright in the daytime, but otherwise considered to be unsafe. We walked through the Company Gardens, the original Dutch settlement established here as a provisioning station for the Dutch East India Company's trade with Indonesia. This is also the location of many of Cape Town's government buildings such as the Parliament Building and the Tuynhuys (the presidential offices).


Surreptitious snap of folks snacking

A fruit vendor

We strolled Long Street and broke for lunch. Although our guide recommended a burger joint, Menzi took some of us over to the Eastern Food Bazaar...a magical covered alley of India, Middle Eastern, and Chinese food stalls. It may be too soon to have a favorite place in the city, but this will certainly rank.

By far the best meal I have had since arriving (and obviously beating out each meal consumed in airports or flights en route). Afterwards, we had a few minutes to stroll around Green Market Square, a former slave market that now serves as a fruit and flea market surrounded by cafes. Acrobats and musicians performed along the edges. Beggars worked some sad stories in search of a few Rand. Vendors tried multiple times to hard sell their range of crafts, including wood carvings, paintings, bead encrusted animal sculptures, and t-shirts.

Fortunately, I was not buying. We then left for the taxi stand, found at the rear end of another flea market on the roof of the train station. All of this, while we caught glimpses of Table Mountain, Devil's Peak, and Lion's Head leaning against the pressing cloud cover of this cooler day.

We found a minivan taxi (these semi-unofficial taxi services that run all over, with a driver and a navigator hanging out the side whistling down fairs on the sidewalks. All 18 of us managed to cram into the van, and off we went back to Rondebosch on the other side of the mountain.

We had a gentle afternoon to ourselves before all of the Ida Cooper students convened for dinner in the suburb of Observatory at a restaurant called Trenchtown. I had the spiciest pizza I have ever consumed, and as I told Al (the van driver) it was the best pizza I have ever had in Africa. He had a good laugh and then proceeded to talk about a couple things in an accent I could not decipher.

While I was able to take a walk and identify a close intersection, I have not yet been to the house where I will be living. It is somewhere up this road at the intersection of Grotto and Lovers Walk.



Before the flies cavorting on my ankles (bared to the elements following an excessive flight time in bondage) frustrate me too badly, I thought I would set a little "I made it" update.

The layover in London was long. I also discovered that while I had planned ahead for a power adaptor for my laptop for South Africa, that would not cover my powering needs while in London...even at the airport. After finding a bite to eat and some coffee (just enough to keep me going to get on the flight), I walked around the terminal. All the human care commerce is centralized in one location. Then, all the departure gates are spread along interminable corridors.

Monkey enjoyed it.

My flight, it turns out, included multiple other American students on their way to a semester at UCT. Most of this crew comes either from UW Madison or UofM Ann Arbor. We were greeted at the airport by members of the International Programs Office, who were lovely and welcoming and fortunately visible in their lime green tshirts. You could tell we were all pretty well exhausted. We all kept trying to remember each others names shortly after introductions. One girl looked at the instructions for pick-up that had been emailed to us and wondered at this odd dutch word pronounced uh-REE-vaal. She missed that it was spelled Arrival.

They gathered us onto a bus and brought us to our temporary housing, a fairly rudimentary dorm.

During the afternoon, we met with some of the Ida Cooper Associates, who all helped with our housing situations. Today, they took us out to get set up with local cell phones and any pharmacy/drug store needs we might have.

I am not quite sure what the coming days hold in terms of orientations and the like. That schedule will unfold in the next couple days as they move us into semester housin.

It is hotter here than I anticipated. There was some time for a shower before dinner, and now I am just trying to stay awake until a certain international social event this evening. Then I can hopefully zonk out for a near full nights sleep.


The Adventure Begins...

...Sort of.

Today (or yesterday, or whatever) I left Joshua Tree for Los Angeles. Shortly after that, I left for London. I sit in London presently waiting for my connecting flight to Cape Town. This will be a really lengthy lay-over. As I write, I am three hours from the point where they will even post from what gate my flight will depart. A while.

While I neglectfully forgot to bring my travel monkey (a sock monkey who entered Fred's and my lives in Massachusetts and has visited Guam, Japan, Korea, India, and large portions of the US with us) to Australia, he has delightfully decided to accompany this adventure.

He has been keeping my boarding passes sorted, which is much appreciated, as I am really tired and prone to errors.

The flight over was a bit rough. I did not get any sleep. The in-flight entertainment service was malfunctioning (no video opiate to catch up on movies while slipping into upright unconsciousness). While the flight was mostly empty, Delta seats are not particularly conducive to comfort, even with the extra space to stretch out a little.

Still, we flew over the southern tip of Greenland at sunrise, which was pretty amazing. It actually made me want to go to Greenland, and I am not a polar fellow.

Having access to a window, I got to snatch a couple other sights as well such as Northern Ireland and the Scottish coast.

Sitting by myself in this terminal, with a truly international cast of background characters bustling to and from varied flights to many a country I hope to someday visit, I was reminded of meeting some of my fellow UC gang while en route to Australia 5 months ago. Having them present to get acquainted with while passing a trans-Pacific flight and a layover in a musty pre-renovation Fiji airport made the entry into that experience a lot easier. It makes me feel a touch lonely here in London. I have monkey, but a sock monkey, it turns out, is not a socially acceptable conversation partner in an airport.

Still, despite the onset of that gentle throbbing sensation that says "Matthew has gone far too long without sleep" my spirits are high. Even exploring the terminal can be a broadening educational experience, and I have not even flown over, let alone landed in, Africa.

More to come as the adventure unfolds...