South Africa

Journeys of a Lifetime in July

Welcome back to my new monthly series on Nomadderwhere, one which highlights the incredible trips one could take in that current month - thanks to a vibrant book called Journeys of a Lifetime by National Geographic. Each month I pick a couple adventures from each section in the book in order to provide you inspiration for 365 days from now. Read the brief description to whet your appetite, and click on the trip name for further information (links provided by National Geographic...of course you could be a gritty backpacker and make it on your own).

Across Water

The Sepik River: Let's start off with a trip for the hairy-chested and callused travelers. Say hello to Papua New Guinea! Coast along one of the least spoiled and greatest river systems in the world, flanked by jungle and indigenous cultures with multiple languages and gruesome stories from village rivalries. Skip the capital city and board a cruise boat for four days. Sounds extreme…

Turkey's Turquoise Coast: I read "anchor at night in isolated coves" and got a little giddy. How does sailing the southwest coast of Turkey, admiring relics of 4,000 year-old civilizations, and enjoying Turkish breakfasts while watching flying fish go by sound? Sounds like a trip to convert any land-lover.

By Road

Route 12 in the Outer Banks: Windsurfers, I'm talking to you now…and hang gliders…and people who like beaches. There's a stretch of 80 miles on the coast of North Carolina called the Outer Banks that would entice all of you. Rocky seas slap the shores and create the perfect climate for wind sports. Route 12 runs the length of the barrier islands and can be driven in three hours.

Ireland

Ireland

Connemara's Sky Road: Ireland already pulls you in with its lovely people and tendency to indulge in some tasty brews, and while you're enjoying the emerald green of her landscapes and primordial beauty, take a drive through the Connemara peninsula for some added visual pleasures. White-sand beaches and high cliffs both make up its rugged perimeter, where the intense wild mingles with pub-filled towns and wild ponies.

By Rail

The Inland Railway: Board in Mora, head to Lapland. See one of Europe's last great wildernesses along the way. If you're into grand travel landmarks, you may enjoy getting the certificate upon crossing the Arctic Circle. Don't rush your week in Sweden, awaiting brown bears outside your train car window. And remember that touring in summertime allows for some awesome vistas with the 24-hour daylight.

Scotland

Scotland

Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh: If you've never seen a hairy cow, now's your chance. Honestly, if you don't know what the Scottish Highlands look like, you're in for an awakening. You've probably dreamt about them without even knowing such land truly exists. I was enchanted by the simple beauty of the lakes and mountains. The landscape is haunting and hopeful at the same time. This train takes three hours and can show you the magic.

On Foot

Climbing Mount Fuji: No snow. No massive festival lines to the top. July is a great time to love on Japan's famous peak. From the looks of Japanese toilets, the rest stops on the way to the summit have got to be elaborate and…kush. Whether you start in the middle for the pre-dawn trek to the sunrise or do the whole darn thing all day long, allow yourself to think about the dormant volcano below you, not all the knick-knacks and novelty items you could get while up there.

Lake Issyk-Kul: I know you don't often find yourself crossing the Kyrgyzstani/Kazakhstani borders often, but you may want to tack this trip onto your pre-existing Stan tour (or your bucket list journey). What do you imagine a lake "cradled in the Mountains of Heven" looks like? You better bet it's not only picturesque but surrounded by incredible hikes through herb meadows and colorful vistas. I never knew the Stans were coated in natural splendor. Serves me right for watching Borat.

In Search of Culture

Amish Country: Do you hang with the Amish often? What gives? Maybe you should. Take off right now for Lancaster Country, Pennsylvania and find yourself some Old Order Amish folk to admire. Take the backroads, stop for some crafts and delicious food goods, and if you're around for a Saturday, try attending an auction. Don't ask me what they auction off; I want to be surprised when I hit that up.

The Painted Monasteries of Moldavia: Illuminated manuscripts are immaculate to begin with, but seeing a similar effect covering the walls of a quaint monastery in Romania's countryside would be time travel-esque. There are as many as fifteen monasteries with similar artistry on display, one of which earned the title of "the Sistine Chapel of the East." You won't have to search very hard to find the culture here in Romania.

In Gourmet Heaven

New York Deli Tour: There's an overwhelming amount of things to do and see in Manhattan, which is why fueling up is essential. Enter the New York deli scene. You've got your classic Katz's Delicatessen, your staple Carnegie Deli, and a slew of others both well-known and lower key. Go with friends and split sandwiches to save room for some cheesecake and other delicious goods.

Wine Route Through Hungary: Allow me to write a wine route haiku:

Ancient golden wines Aged in musty, moldy caves What could be sweeter

Since when have you needed to be persuaded to visit a wine country? You just needed to know it was there. And now you do. So go.

Into the Action

Horse Treks in the Andes: The choice isn't horse, foot, car, or plane. It's obvious you'll be traversing the Andes on horseback, but the question is where: through the grasslands and volcanoes of Ecuador or along old smugglers' routes in Patagonia. Since the Andes are the longest mountain range in the world, it seems the choices are virtually limitless. Regardless, to be that connected with the glory of nature would be a thrill for the masses…and the sole individual that feels real isolation and fresh air in their nostrils. Can you tell I pine for Patagonia?

The Big Five

The Big Five

Stalking the "Big Five": Who are the "Big Five?" They were classified as so for being the most difficult to hunt: lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo, and rhinos. Chobe National Park in Botswana will satiate your desires to see these bad boys and stalk them with your newly purchased sniper (a.k.a. telephoto) lens. Don't expect to sleep in on this sort of safari, but you can expect an awesome mid-day nap when the rest of the animals snooze as well.

Up and Away

Over British Columbia: Vancouver is one of those cities that can be done by foot, bike, car, etc. but what shouldn't be neglected is the aerial view from the windows of a float plane. Sunset flights could be majestic, but daytime jaunts can bring you into view of eagles, seals, and porpoises going nuts in nature.

Buzzing over Kruger National Park: Nothing feels more like a defiance of all natural instincts and laws that flying over man-eating animals in a kite strapped to a lawn mower engine. And at the same moment, nothing is cooler than taking a microlight on a mini-safari over reserves like Kruger. It's certainly a new and interesting way to move about this earth and a surreal way to observe animals in their natural habitats.

In Their Footsteps

Across the Continental Divide with Lewis and Clark: I have no idea how Lewis and Clark could do it. But thank goodness they did; otherwise, who knows if I'd be alive (that'd be funny and make sense if I were actually related to William Clark, which I don't believe I was). It is, however, possible to see for yourself what the wild continental divide was like 200 years ago when they made their famed trek. Montana looks monumental in size, and it's always a trip worth taking to be amidst mass beauty.

Blues Pilgrimage in Clarksdale: It's the birthplace of the blues and chillin' in the Mississippi Delta, waiting to be explored by you. Morgan Freeman has certainly invested a lot in this region, which is decidedly understated but top notch in musical quality and food choices, among many other things, I would assume. You could also take Highway 61, also known as the Blues Highway, and make Clarksdale one stop among many on your musical pilgrimage.

How's that brain? Spinning with innumerable desires to traverse continents and climates? Pull out a pen and prioritize your life by putting one or more of these trips at the top of the list. And by planning a year in advance, you'll be quite able to save, prepare, and anticipate the rigors of your adventure in every way. Check back in August for the Journeys of a Lifetime you could partake in next year!

Where are you inspired to travel to next year? Leave a comment and be my new friend.

A Treat for the Eyes and the Mind

I did it. I missed a day! June 20th, 2010 went by without a smidgeon of a visual. To those of you who missed seeing a Photo of the Day yesterday. I apologize. To make up for it (as well as today's missing pic), here's a little morsel of goodness to suckle on.

And as my internet is being wonky, I'll supply the link to the embedded video above, in case it doesn't show up. What did you think? Have you been watching the World Cup? Instead of asking who you'd like to win, who would you hate to see reach that victorious final bracket position?

Journeys of a Lifetime in June

Welcome back to my new monthly series on Nomadderwhere, one which highlights the incredible trips one could take in that current month - thanks to a vibrant book called Journeys of a Lifetime by National Geographic. Each month I pick a couple adventures from each section in the book in order to provide you inspiration for 365 days from now. Read the brief description to whet your appetite, and click on the trip name for further information (links provided by National Geographic...of course you could be a gritty backpacker and make it on your own).

Across Water

The St. Lawrence: If you have an interest in Canada's most historical city, a passion for seafaring, and a love of the slow travel movement, take this river route from Quebec to Montreal, which exhibits its fair share of beautiful nature. Glacier-carved paths have never been so cool.

Eastern Caribbean Cruise: It looks like there are some very appealing options for the Caribbean other than the all-inclusive resorts. Sailing from Antigua to Puerto Rico sounds like one of them! And if you're not obsessed with sun-worshipping, don't forget the intriguing cultures, inland adventures, and fantastic diving opportunities are paired with a Caribbean good time. Not a cruise-goer? I don't think you should expect the stigma.

By Road

Lake Michigan Shoreline: Traverse one of the longest suspension bridges in the world. Motor from white sand beaches to the dunes, big cities to the Cape Cods of the Midwest. Would make for a great summer road trip for anyone unfamiliar with the highlights of the region.

Crossing the Andes from Bolivia to Chile: June will be a cold month for South America, but that also means seeing very clear skies reflected in the beautiful salt plains. With a title like "The World's Highest Road Journey," you know it has to be a memorable trip. To the Andes, baby!

By Rail

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad: Sounds like the kind of trip a traveling family would enjoy taking: boarding an authentic steam train for a day though the Colorado Rockies. Of course, if you're a nature lover, it could also knock you down with its river/gorge/forest/mountain awesomeness.

The Qingzang Railway: I'm guessing you didn't think this is how you'd ever experience 15,000 feet. Linking western China to Tibet, this high-altitude train has oxygen supplies under every seat, in case you get a little woozy from watching a landscape of glaciers and Himalayan peaks. Note to the wise: you must prove your heart capable of making such a jaunt, preferably with legit paperwork.

On Foot

The Carpathian Mountains: Give yourself a week in Eastern Europe for some vampire hunting. Whether you believe in Romania's folk mythology or not, the day hikes through these mountains peppered with wildlife and culture-rich castles and related history. Let your imagination freak you out in Transylvania.

High Atlas Mountains: Pack mules lug your load while walking from village to village among the Moroccan mountain range. And if your particularly adventurous, climb North Africa's tallest peak at 13,670 feet. And, of course, there's no doubt this country harbors some pretty amazing cities with loads to unload in the form of exotic culture.

In Search of Culture

Athenian Ruins

Classical Greece: Imagine the birth of Western civilization in the actual places of its occurrence. And showing up in June could score you front row seats at a Greek play spoken in the original language, that is if you stop by Epidavros for the annual festival. And don't then call it quits after Athens; you've still gotta see Delphi, Mycenae, and Olympia.

Arnhem Land Cultural Safari: The oldest civilization on the planet have got themselves a nook all their own to cherish their history, culture, and way of life. To visit the Aborigines of Northern Australia requires registering and taking a guided, organized tour. And with that golden ticket comes a slew of coveted experiences from the Aborigines themselves.

In Gourmet Heaven

Trappist Monastery Beers: Investigate the subtle differences between every other [immaculately engineered] beer in the world and those with the Authentic Trappist Product label. Either you can rent a car and visit the monastery churches (not the breweries), or you can sit at a bar and try them all from the comforts of your stool. I guess one is more scenic.

From Pesto to Paella: Genoa to Valencia. It's very obvious the one bound for this gastro-adventure will come home 10 pounds happier. Order what's most fresh and special, the delicacy of the area, the meal everyone else is munching on. Rent a car and take your time. Savor those morsels!

Into the Action

Dutch Bulbfields: Cycling around Holland seems like an obligatory task when traveling there, but it's also said to be the optimal way to view the blooming extravaganza every spring, when tulips fill fields with brilliant colors. Stock up on your bulbs like you're heading to Costco.

Diving with Sharks: While some call it a truly crazy idea, I call it a darn good time. Jumping in a cage next to a boat surrounded by chummy water and fish the size of station wagons - what could be better for a thrill? Head down to Cape Town to see the scariest smiles in the world.

Up and Away

Floatplane to the Nahanni: Glide on into the first ever UNESCO World Heritage Site, located in the remote Northwestern Territories of Canada. Rock, rivers, wildlife, waterfalls - they all blend their extremes together to create an impressive backdrop for an adventure. Careful of the massive mammals that roam the lands.

The Burj Dubai: The world's fastest elevator, which happens to be a double decker, is fittingly situated in the massive column of the Burj Dubai, presently the world's tallest building. Observe the hazy, impressive city of Dubai from the 124th floor where you'll surely feel a bit of a sway to and fro.

In Their Footsteps

The Odyssey: Reading The Odyssey while buoying around the Aegean Sea may just inspire you with divine knowledge to know which real islands were the models for the fantastical ones from Homer's epic poem. Santorini? Crete? Give yourself three weeks to follow your own version of the journey.

James Joyce's Dublin: Joyce's book, Ulysses, is yet another reason why tourists love Dublin and its earthy goodness. June marks a great time to visit, as the Bloomsday Festival carries on with period costumes speckling the streets and activities based on the classic book attracting the true fans to the plate.

How's that brain? Spinning with innumerable desires to traverse continents and climates? Pull out a pen and prioritize your life by putting one or more of these trips at the top of the list. And by planning a year in advance, you'll be quite able to save, prepare, and anticipate the rigors of your adventure in every way. Check back in July for the Journeys of a Lifetime you could partake in next year!

Where are you inspired to travel to next year? Leave a comment and be my new friend.

Journeys of a Lifetime in April

Welcome back to my new monthly series on Nomadderwhere, one which highlights the incredible trips one could take in that current month - thanks to a vibrant book called Journeys of a Lifetime by National Geographic. Each month I pick a couple adventures from each section in the book in order to provide you inspiration for 365 days from now. Read the brief description to whet your appetite, and click on the trip name for further information (links provided by National Geographic...of course you could be a gritty backpacker and make it on your own).

Read More

Journeys of a Lifetime in February

Welcome back to my new monthly series on Nomadderwhere, one which highlights the incredible trips one could take in that current month - thanks to a vibrant book called Journeys of a Lifetime by National Geographic. Each month I pick a couple adventures from each section in the book in order to provide you inspiration for 365 days from now. Read the brief description to whet your appetite, and click on the trip name for further information (links provided by National Geographic...of course you could be a gritty backpacker and make it on your own).

Across Water

Cruising to Antarctica: Start at the end of the world (Ushuaia at the tip of South America) and float toward the chilly marine life and frozen antiquity of Antarctica. You'd only do this once in your life, unless your a scientist, a mountaineer or crazy. Make that one trip count.

Pirogues and Pinasses on the Niger River: You're going to feel timeless and relaxed while floating on this great waterway of Africa. Mali makes for great camping, and the fare you catch from the river will make for excellent campfire dinners as well.

By Road

From Lisbon to Porto: Salt pans, flatlands, pine forests, wooded hills, vine-clad valleys - get a load of Portugal's western coast! Get in that car and go.

The Garden Route: South Africa's tip is not only an optical masterpiece with plenty of indigineous wild and plant life, but it's incredibly accessible for backpackers via city hostels and the Baz Bus for transport in between. Along this route are adventure activities ranging from the world's most beautiful sky dive drop zone to great white shark diving.

By Rail

Eastern & Oriental Express: Singapore to Bangkok...in style. Restaurant cars with high quality food and piano bars for sipping cocktails with a panoramic view - this could be an excellent way to see Southeast Asia's peninsula, maybe not my way. Sometimes the luxury is a nice break from the overhaul.

Darjeeling Toy Train: Locals in Darjeeling joke there's no other town in the world where a train passenger can step out of the car, take a leak and hop back in without breaking a slight jog. Locals also kid there's no other town in the world where the train gets caught in traffic jams. Darjeeling's toy train is scrawny for India's standards, but it offers views of the 3rd tallest mountain, Kanchenjunga.

On Foot

The Torres Del Paine: It's no secret I'm pining for a trip to South America's tip, to see Patagonia and Ushuaia in person. The Torres Del Paine National Park does nothing to hinder this desire. Nature trumps man once again. My hiking boots are ready.

Hill Villages of Chiang Mai: A trip up to the Thai mountain villages near Chiang Mai sounds fantastic to me, especially arriving at the end of the rainy season in February. If you're considering a trip, I'd be sure to do my research on tours vs. independent and the status of tourism's effect on the area. Anyone have experience with this region?

In Search of Culture

Maya Temples: Travel to Cancun for another reason this winter and begin a trip across Mexico, Belize and Guatemala to see the ancient remains of the Mayan jungle cities. I'd advise you to prepare by marrying the stairmaster in anticipation of the steep temple steps.

Musical Journey to Central Europe: Start in Czech Republic, mosey across Austria and end your musical quest in Hungary after becoming one with the natural and cultural inspirations of your favorite classical composers. Taking this trip is sure to give me flashbacks from my years at the piano bench, wishing the Mozart melodies in my books would be replaced by snazzy pop tunes. Thankfully, this never occurred.

In Gourmet Heaven

Cajun Cooking in Louisiana: February and Louisiana. There's only one thing I could be referring to…cajun food in Acadiana! Maybe after you unravel all the beads from your neck and find your shoes from the night before, head out of New Orleans for some real cajun food where the Nova Scotians originally settled and prepared their wicked meals.

Central Otago Wine Trail: Wine pilgrims, flock to the South Island of New Zealand for a Pinot Noir that gets international applause. And you'll surely hear your claps reverberate off the rugged, mountainous terrain that will surround your sampling session. I hope you don't choose to pair the wine with a nearby bungee jump, as the Kawarau Bridge sits tantalizingly close to all the grape festivities.

Into the Action

Tiger Safari: Ranthambore is a compact reserve in eastern Rajasthan - the perfect place to spot the 20-odd Bengal tigers terrorizing the wee other wildlife. Visiting in February beats the hot weather but comes just close enough to summer and its great conditions for seeing stripes.

Skiing Mont Blanc's Vallee Blanche: Sky down the highest Alp and the greatest run on the planet. Oui au…need I say more? I probably do…it's in France.

Up and Away

Skimming Ancient Australian Rain Forest: The rain in February awakens the ancient rain forest between Kuranda and Cairns near Australia's "Alfalfa" tip. Take the skyrail above the canopy for excellent views of the massive pythons and other wildlife dangling in the trees.

Nile Balloons: Early pre-dawn start, chilly desert morning, expansive views from a balloon in the sky, champagne breakfast - floating away from Luxor along the Nile does not seem like a shabby way to start your day in Egypt. Just think you could see more ancient temples and tombs before 9am than most people do their whole lives!

In Their Footsteps

Ansel Adams' Yosemite: Ansel Adams' parents gave him his first camera upon reaching Yosemite as a 14 year-old school boy. Visitors these days can visit the Ansel Adams Gallery and attend workshops on composing show-stopping photographs inspired by Adams' decades of work at this national park. Enjoy the snowy trails!

Jesus in the Holy Land: Visit a land where many religions converge, creating legendary landmarks of biblical proportions all over the country of Israel. Avoid the intense heat of the summer months by visiting in February, before the Easter crowd of pilgrims appears.

How's that brain? Spinning with innumerable desires to traverse continents and climates? Pull out a pen and prioritize your life by putting one or more of these trips at the top of the list. And by planning a year in advance, you'll be quite able to save, prepare, and anticipate the rigors of your adventure in every way. Check back in March for the Journeys of a Lifetime you could partake in next year!

Where are you inspired to travel to next year? Leave a comment and be my new friend.

Video of the Week: World Traveler Intern Highlights

One of my least favorite questions to answer is "What was your favorite part?" Slimming down a trip into the best moments leaves out all the thrills in between and the trip's entirety as a journey, which amplifies the highlights even more. The experience of the World Traveler Internship had an obvious highlight for me: the job itself. Going back to my room at night to write a blog or make a video was fulfilling and affirmed my desire to be a travel writer.

Oh, but if I must tell you what was fun, here are some highlights from Australia, East Africa, India, South Africa, and Fiji.

Cape Town and Garden Route Photos

South Africa is gorgeous through the eye and the lens. Read my blogs on South Africa for a little more detail.

South Africa made easy with the Garden Route

Keeps getting prettier along the way

Africa is like a really big trail map. Cairo to Cape Town. Malaga to Douala. Nairobi to Victoria Falls. Tour companies and travelers alike have realized that those who make it to Africa are there to spend some time and see a good lot of incredible sights. You won't meet many people who travel to Africa and hop around by air to all the different destinations. Everyone overlands. And everyone takes the same paths, whether in an overland vehicle, a fully-loaded Jeep with their families, or a cramped and ancient public bus. They do this because there aren't many distinct "sites" in Africa. Africa is the sight to behold in itself. See the land in between and connect destinations with the open road. Follow along these well-known paths, and you'll often see the same travelers at the same junctions/watering holes on the way. People swap stories and can relate to each other because they all know Ma who works at Snake Park in Arusha and that one fantastic beach bar in Nungwi, Zanzibar where the local boys practice their dance moves. Following these trails creates a community of vagabonds that all move by different means but all move to the same places.

In South Africa, the trail to follow is the Garden Route.

Starting (or ending) in Cape Town, one can experience the endless activities of this harbor city and move on via Baz Bus to a plethora of towns along the southern coast. Whether you want to hit up the winelands in Stellenbosch, the whale watching and cage diving near Hermanus, the beautiful landscapes of Mossel Bay, or the adventure sports of Plettenberg Bay, there are tens of stops to choose from and so many travelers to tell you good advice for your route.

The views are pretty much stunning everywhere, and we were there in the wintertime, when the sun was always at about half-mast and the wind was gentle and cool. Perfect. It can only get better from an already sky-high standard of vacation. And one of the best parts of the Garden Route, especially during that time of year, is the laid-back atmosphere that encourages relaxation and taking your merry time to blaze the trail.

Africa seems like a tough place to begin thinking about visiting, but after a quick glance on the internet, anyone will find a slew of routes and easy ways to digest the birth continent of mankind. And with a name like the "Garden Route", you know you're not going to be disappointed on your tour of South Africa.

Plummeting towards Earth: Day 51

The Moment of DIsbelief

Adrenalin junkies. Sometimes it seems like its a requirement to be heavily inked, fully pierced, leather-skinned, and a big fan of phrases like "that was so sick", "unreal, man", and "aw, dude, I've heard about that jump --it looks so ill!" These guys and gals flock to freefalls, half pipes, and semi-dangerous situations around the world, looking to cause that big release by pursuing adventure, sometimes at a lofty price. I never thought I would be one of these people, but then again, I never tumbled out of a plane voluntarily...until now. It seems a little daring or presumptuous to try describing a feeling that can only really be experienced to be known, but my awesome job is to tell you what there is in the world to do. Well, alright then. I'll give it a go.

You go up in a plane. You don't land with the plane. You sit backwards without a seatbelt on a tiny aircraft (where the pilot also wears a parachute), and as the altimeter reaches 10,000 feet, you open the latch to send the door flying upward. Then you throw your knees over onto the wheel step, rock backwards, and tumble towards Earth. All of these things sound very wrong, no? They are. We, as humans, were not made to do these things. If we were, we would have evolved wings or really big nostrils to float us down to land. But that's the whole thrill. Sky diving is doing what you're not supposed to do. Plummeting towards Earth is a bad idea, one that can result in a massive boo-boo, and you should totally do it.

For some odd reason, I wasn't all that worried about this, the biggest freefall of my life. Carly Mills, of STA Travel (as well as our hilarious travel partner this week), was petrified, and I think being around someone who was more nervous than I made my worries seem pretty easy to handle. I don't think I gave much thought to the image of the open air under me, and that certainly helped. I knew I'd be safely brought down to South Africa by my tandem partner, Donovan from Skydive Plett, who had jumped over 6,600 times before. Whoa, boy, that's over 55 hours of airtime.

And not only was this my first time flying through the skies, but we were jumping at one of the top two highest ranked drop zones in the World (along with Cape Town). The scenery was teal, mountainous, and capable of making your heart fly higher than it already does after a 35 second free fall. We were supposed to look for whales up there while parachuting to safety, but I was too engaged in my own disbelief of what just happened.

We landed perfectly, a few steps to a complete standing stop, and I yelled my amazement to all the men at the bottom who hear these exclamations every day. And that was it. I jumped out of a plane. Nuts. Simply nuts.

I'm hooked. I'm going again soon. Darn this new expensive hobby! A big thanks to Skydive Plett!

Cage Diving with Sharks, Recommended: Day 48

Yarg

About six weeks prior, I had trouble jumping off a 12 meter cliff into beautiful teal waters. I danced nervously atop a rocky precipice and looked to the skies to counteract the damage done from staring at the water below. But for some reason, I had absolutely no trouble throwing a lead weight around my neck and getting into the chummy, bloody waters that would make a whale shiver. Not to mention, these waters had some terrifying inhabitants, man-eaters for sure, and it was only a couple steel rods between me and the world's scariest smiles. Chris and Carly were quite skeptical of this experience, but why was I so gung-ho? Sometimes my travel huevos just decide to show up, I guess.

And so, as the sun rose over the Western Cape of South Africa, Carly, Chris and I were boarding a small vessel equipped with wetsuits, soft drinks, and a five-person cage for great white shark viewing. Tying the cage to the side of the boat, five or six people piled in, looking like identical Scuba Steves, and awaited the sharks who were being tempted by tuna heads on ropes, bloody water, and chum a-plenty.

The first shark was a little guy, relatively speaking, and he went for the tuna head with patience and very little pre-meditation. Soon, there arrived a couple more bigger guys that had the fire in their eyes. One ran straight into the cage beside Chris' scared-stiff body, its razor sharp teeth squealing as they smashed against the metal. He emerged from the water frantic and not amused.

By the time I jumped into the thoroughly nasty waters, the bad boys circling our cage and boat were like swimming cars...with killer grills. I forgot to hold my breath a couple times and came up sputtering, taking in drops of the bloody, salt water, and nearly tossing chunks. Luckily, the adrenalin surging through my body kept me aware and together enough to know not to put my feet on the back of the cage and not thrash around to attract the beasts. And just as I was about to crawl out of the Southern Ocean, the grand-daddy of great whites went for the tuna head, putting his massive body vertical in the water and smack dab against our rattling cage. He could have eaten the Jetta parked in my garage at home.

Why did we go deep into frigid waters and taunt these terrors? What made us feel safe in this little, rocking boat? These adventure dudes sure know how to make you feel safe, and I am definitely pleased I saw such awesome nature all up in my face. Ah, travel huevos...if you've got 'em, utilize 'em...and go shark diving! Just listen to them when they say, "Don't try to pet the sharks. I know you want to. But...don't.”

Stay classy, Stellenbosch: Day 47

Drinking wine Xhosa face paint

Wine Tasting: a classy concept that seems to inspire smarter ensembles, a listening ear, a more discernible palate than one actually has. I've gone wine tasting three times in my life. The first time was in Napa Valley after Semester at Sea. I was in culture shock and missing my new friends, so I got drunk about three times per day on quality reds from the California hills. The second time was in Indiana, believe it or not, at a vineyard that has rumors of using Welch's grape juice instead of that which falls from the grapevine. This third time, in Stellenbosch outside of Cape Town, was the most successful and most enjoyable of them all.

As I've illustrated, wine tasting isn't something you can't do elsewhere. And during our planning sessions for South Africa, we almost vetoed this idea because of that fact. But that would have been a mistake, as everyone, travelers and residents, that we asked for suggestions on SA activities mentioned we needed to spend a day trying the grape products of the Western Cape. Not only is there delicious alcohol involved in the equation but beautiful landscapes, a little bit of learning, and no doubt fun people in it as well.

We were in.

We set up our tour at the hostel's travel desk, which was so incredibly handy I didn't mind the commission they probably got from each activity booked. Our guide, Merinda, picked us up in the morning along with five young, spry others that all possessed that wine sparkle in their eye. Our schedule was to hit four or five vineyards that all had something special to offer: unlimited goat cheese tasting, sparkling wines, stunning views, and the best, most varied selection of Pinotage around.

And it was here we found the one thing that made wine tasting in South Africa unique: a combination of Pinot and Hermitage (so I was told...can't remember exactly for some reason...hic!). The king of Pinotage had white, blush, and red versions of this South African speciality, and we tried every single one of them. I tried to differentiate the tastes between an oaken barrel and steel tank fermentation and decided wood trumps steel any day.

The drive back was dramatically different than the drive there. Everyone had a plastic glass sloshing recent purchases and chocolate fingers. Red teeth dressed up every photograph captured. And a massive sing-along of Aussie national songs and American classics like "American Pie" commenced that probably rocked our driver's ear drums. The day ended at 5pm, and for some of us, that was pretty much all we could handle.

Hiking up and Giggling Down Table Mountain: Day 46

Hiking Table's Slopes

I didn't know where Table Mountain was (nor that it existed) until I pulled up to Cape Town harbor and saw her silhouette. That first sight of her was the kind that solidifies a mystical attachment and constant amazement that becomes evident in random dreams days and years later. And since that first sighting I've wanted to climb her extreme slopes and see her supposedly divine views. Many of my friends were granted the pleasure, but I never had the time while there. I was glad to hear Carly's enthusiasm for the hike this time around because it meant quenching an overdue thirst. So Table Mountain is 1000 some odd meters and only about a third of its original size. It used to stand along with its neighboring peaks as the only land while Cape Town was still underwater. People have found fossils and seashells on her slopes, but we weren't so lucky...or observant. We decided not to go with a guide, whom would have filled us in on more than just this information we got from some driver. But we weren't looking forward to an educational walk with nature.

The three of us began walking up the road towards the path turnoff and entertained ourselves while trotting higher in altitude. Virtually every step on the path was a rock stairstep, making the climb easier for more age groups and killer on the glutes. And one of my favorite parts about scaling nature is the constantly improving views, so just about ever chance we took, we shot some footage of Cape Town, the looming tower of rock before us, and ourselves in this picturesque scene.

Summiting Table Mountain isn't the most difficult thing in the mountaineering world. It's a moderate, 3 hour climb for anyone who can ably scale a long staircase. And if you're like us, you'll want to stagger your ascents between dancing sessions, photo shoots, travel games, and waterfall basking. There is a cable car that can bring you up to the summit in minutes, but as with anything you earn, the top is much more fulfilling if you intimately know every step it took to get there.

And since we were winded upon reaching the Table "top", we treated ourselves to some beers...and candy...and more beers...and a little debauchery. It was a perfect way to spend a perfect weather day in Cape Town. It's something that cannot be done anywhere else, because obviously there's only one flat-top mountain overlooking a harbor called Table. Even before doing this, I would have recommended the activity to anyone traveling to Cape Town, but now that I've finally got some first-hand experience under my belt, I can scream it.

CLIMB THAT TABLE!

No Tour in SA? Gasp!

Have you been keeping up with our WTI journey? Yes or No. If the answer is yes, you've aced today's coolness test. It's based on hundreds of factors developed by brilliant scientists in order to accurately determine someone's personal awesomeness level. If you answered no, you can't possibly have less internet access than we have, so there's no excuse. Catch up now!...then come back and finish this blog :)

The reason I ask this hard-hitting inquiry is that if your answer was yes, then you know we've been boarding tour bus after tour bus thus far with strangers-turned-friends around the world. You'd also know that Chris and I weren't really tour people to begin with but have had experiences thus far that would need "best time ever", "once in a lifetime", "hooray for life" phrases attached to them.

But with South Africa came a whole new experience...an unplanned one! Though we had our hostels and Baz Bus reservations all set, we had open-ended days in spectacular cities along the southernmost coast of Africa in need of filling. So when STA Travel's marketing manager, Carly, joined us in Johannesburg for a lil' SA getaway, we started rambling off all the things that had to get done.

Great White Shark Cage Diving Hiking Table Mountain Stellenbosch Winelands Adventure Sports Long Street and the Waterfront

...and a healthy slew of others. With only one or two days in Cape Town to do it up right, we talked to fellow travelers (lots of the volunteers from i-to-i) and travel agents to find out the scoop, which was that adventure sports could wait until the Garden Route. What's unique to this area? The best ways to spend a few days in CT? Hiking tall, flat mountains and savoring fine wines, of course. And so we did, making sure to sample some staple and some understated restaurants around. We actually extended our time in Cape Town in order to allow for more enjoyment of this city that is idolized by her visitors and especially her residents.

What's great about the Garden Route are the landscapes, the relaxed wintertime environment, and the heaps of activities available. I see Cape Town as one of those cities that makes everything in it better because it's existing and happening in that city. Just like New York, Chicago, Florence, Paris, London, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Sydney...these places live. And when something happens there, regardless of how fun or cool it actually was, it's immediately on a higher level, solely based on the real estate mantra of location [cubed]! Therefore, we had to see the nightlife, had to shop, had to go wine tasting, had to walk up big slopes, had to take tons of pictures and wander around...not because these are things we never get to do, but because they are occurring in this booming and blooming city.

And that's how we decided on our itinerary for South Africa. Hike. Drink Wine. Shark Dive. Bungy. Sky Dive. Whale watch. View animals. And the trip was perfect...

Painting and Playing all day long: Day 45

There's nothing louder and simultaneously as comforting as rain on a tin roof, even during monsoons. This must be what makes the Cape Town area look so clear, clean, and lush. And surely, when we emerged from our rooms that second day in False Bay, the world was dripping and new. Into Masi again, we went into a few creches where children from the township can receive child care and an education while their parents work, in hopes that they will someday be at the same academic level as their peers. The first one was hooked up, resources stacking the shelves in an organized, well-labeled fashion. At our arrival, one volunteer was reading a book in English, and a teacher next to her translated the story in Xhosa, chocked full of clicks and tongue smacks. Activity time commenced with drawing and painting, and we tried getting our hands and minds in there with the kids. I ended up stacking toys with young 5 and 6 year olds, trying to teach them colors and shapes. One teacher came over, asking me if I've been "teaching her children". When the kids nodded their heads, she looked really touched, and I was filled with...dare I say...glee.

The second creche wasn't nearly as organized, discipline-oriented, or effective in making a difference for the kids. These 2 and 3 year olds, as well as babies, pretty much danced around a building erected by previous volunteers and entertained themselves. Part of the process, though, of programs coming in to help various establishments is waiting for an invitation and a genuine intention to progress towards something sustainable. Though this creche had made great leaps towards improving the conditions for the kids, moving them from a flooded and moldy room in the back of the house to a clean, dry, well-lit structure, they didn't have daily routines or enough activities to calm their busy minds and bodies. Luckily the ones at this creche move on to the previous creche and receive the skills that will get them somewhere.

And the women that run these places often don't receive enough donations to function but must work themselves on the weekends and evenings for funds to run their creche. That's some noble, admirable dedication right there.

Our volunteer coordinators, Ally and Isabelle, treated us to a much appreciated meal and took us to our final destination of an orphanage in a colored community. Something Ally informed us of early on is the use of racial terms in accepted speech. In South Africa, people describe others as white, black, or colored. Simply using these words does not imply anything derogatory. The term "colored" differentiates those who have dark skin and other influences of Arabic, Asian, and so on. Anywho, the orphanage is better than many that exist in America today and had been visited by Melinda Gates. They had resources, though an odd stance on nutrition (the meals of custard answered questions about the quite round babies). We played for a bit after a tour of the facilities and returned to our hostel, feeling pretty content from the incredible treatment we received for two days straight.

Thomas Jefferson was a fan of travel: "Travel makes you wiser, but less happy." In a sense, I think he was on target, but global and social awareness can also bring a feeling of hope and enlightenment that can empower and please. I didn't feel happy seeing children and adults living hard lives that I observed as a cushy tourist. But I loved being witness to their strong characters and seeing the moments of success that emerge from the hardships. You can hear about the problems in South Africa and easily forget about them. You can see the problems in South Africa and remember them well. You can do something for the struggles, learn about the solutions, and interact with South Africans and understand viscerally until the end of your days. For this reason, I volunteer, because I don't ever want these hard realities to be easy to forget.

No need to cry, kitty...there's TEARS

The barking from TEARS reverberates across the entirety of Masiphumalele daily, but what's represented by those sounds make the annoyance of constant dog yelping kinda comforting. The Emma Animal Rescue Society takes stray animals as well as domestic pets from the local communities for vaccinations, fixing, and disease treatment at a price that no one can argue with: free. Instead of putting down pups with horrifying skin diseases, they do what they can to ensure that every animal gets a chance at survival and adoption. And when they wander across a pet cat that hasn't been neutered yet, they create a positive relationship and rapport between TEARS and the owner, gaining respect and trust among people who don't often have the money to do the right thing for their beloved pets. We took a tour of the facilities to observe feral cats hanging out, sweet and healthy kitties propped on columns ready to be loved, and dogs dancing around their cages eager for chow time. One frisky barker had moves like Spiderman and bounded from the ceiling of his shared cage down to the ground, really darn excited for his Kibble. We gave treats to those that were being especially friendly and then moseyed to the wrestling puppies. There was a whole lotta cuteness going on at TEARS, and I think Chris and I could have entertained ourselves for hours playing with the animals.

The rescue squad, or mobile clinic, or whatever it was called invited us to join a ride through Masi to observe how they find the needy animals and connect with the communities. There was one man living on the very edge of the wetlands who absolutely adored his large, golden canines but couldn't feed them and treat them they way they deserved. TEARS built him a kennel out of the rain water and helped him out with dog food. The man was so grateful, he put his palms together and dipped his head in a sign of extreme and humble thanks.

When we turned a corner and saw a small cat staring at some snacking birds, we paused to laugh, and then the mobile crew took a gander to make sure she was fixed. Nay! TEARS squad members unite! One man spoke in the local language of Xhosa to tell her they could take care of everything and bring back her cat in a few days at no cost to her. One less animal out and about with procreating abilities or susceptibility to bad diseases.

In the next township of Mountain View, we came across a man who adored his massive pitbull, a canine who was quite obviously not fixed. The dog's homemade sweater was connected to the chain around his neck and had felt letters sewn on spelling "I'm so hood". It was just too perfect an ensemble. The owner reeked of booze and had an odd smear of white surrounding his mouth. He insisted that he'd never taken his dog to a fight, but he's killed 13 dogs before. And he took impeccable care to pair his fella with only the most worthy pitbull ladies, spreading the good bloodlines he called it. In this community, it's common that the men keep incredibly virile and dangerous dogs to solidify their own manly image. This was a case that would take weeks for TEARS to work, and they began by talking about dog fight victims to get on this guy's sappy side. We watched from afar at their wicked skills of coercion.

We left them to their jobs of keeping the animal peace and went for a volunteer bbq at the i-to-i house. It involved the kind of good food that puts hair on your chest: beef, sausage, potaters. The volunteers were all young, chatty, and very sweet, and their perspectives on travel, their volunteer projects, and South Africa were refreshing. It looks like more guys need to be made aware of this volunteer program, as they were scarcely represented. Fellas, South Africa + a bunch of ladies and you living under one roof...think about it.

Getting our Backs into it: Day 44

I looked at i-to-i a while back when I was weighing my post-graduation opportunities. My trouble with volunteer projects though is always that I'm not sure whether my presence will be accepted, appreciated, and utilized for the maximum amount of assistance I can provide. Sometimes you show up, and it's pretty obvious a project is just about getting people to donate money and get out. Other times, you've got a very devoted group of people ready to work, but there aren't any resources or guidance to make the developments occur. i-to-i had all these issues figured out, and we could see and feel there was a need for volunteers to be there. We drove from Cape Town around the mountains to False Bay during the brilliance of a harbor sunrise. The first stop was a no frills walk around a township called Masiphumalele (which stands for "we will succeed"). Townships areas were set aside during the apartheid era as a place to "put" the colored and black communities that weren't wanted in the residential white zones. Masi, for short, is the only informal community in the Cape Town area that's centered in a "white" zone and is also the township with the highest percentage of people with HIV and AIDS...42%.

Charlotte, a local resident who can only be described as delightful, showed us around the community centers, libraries, relief centers, and even her own home, which is a privilege for visitors. We inquired about the expenses of living in this township and discovered a shack, built with a corrugated tin roof and roughly assembled panels, would go for about $500. Day care for a young child is $10 per month, but since these facilities wouldn't send a child away if the parents failed to pay, often that fee never gets collected. The township also bordered a wetland area, which floods with each heavy rain, and unfortunately it had been pouring the week prior to our arrival. Many children couldn't go to school or day care because they didn't have dry clothes to wear, and parents flocked to the relief centers for blankets to get through the chilly weather.

We walked amongst the kids singing in the street, the dogs roaming and barking hysterically, and the wandering people making their ways to local shops or passing taxis. This is definitely the way to do a township tour. Go with someone from the township, and walk, don't ride. It's also important to make sure your photography isn't about exploiting the people who live there, so this is one of those events that calls for intense sensitivity with clicking the shutter.

We then hit up our lunch stop, which also happened to be an educare center for children of pretty abysmal living situations and histories. Carrying in bags of rolls and deli ham, Chris and I began slathering mayo and folding ham for the kids' lunches. When we walked in, there was earth-rumbling screaming. When we passed out sandwiches, a mouse could have passed gas, and all would have turned their heads to look. And once the children consumed the food before them, it was back to unstoppable energy. The volunteers were personal jungle gyms for some kids, while others found joy in just being held. I attracted some gigglers with the always-reliable crowd pleaser, the tickle monster. Wherever you looked, there was a runny nose and a smile. It was a good scene.

Our expert sandwich assembling abilities came in handy once more when about 20 loaves of bread and flats of peanut butter came into the kitchen. We found ourselves in an efficient assembly line partaking in the relief efforts from recent rains. All those families whose homes hadn't a dry board received PB&Js to curb the devastation just a smidge. It felt good to spend even part of this trip doing something as useful as making cold and hungry families food.

Outside, volunteers stood propped up by rakes and shovels, smoking and chatting, waiting for the top soil and manure to show up for the care center's new garden. This project led by the volunteer program proposes to provide the children with fresh vegetables for stews and make better nutrition possible for very little money. And considering the owner of the establishment spends all her free time working for the funds to run the joint, anything to ease the heavy financial load is ecstatically appreciated. We got our backs into it for a bit and then had to move on to another social improvement project...this time all about the canines and felines.

Wonderful Cape Town: Day 43

Are you aware of the seven natural wonders of the world? No? Perfect, because I'm about to list them off: Victoria Falls in Zambia/Zimbabwe Mt. Everest in Nepal/China The Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA The Great Barrier Reef off Australia The Northern Lights Paricutin Volcano in Mexico The Harbor of Rio de Janiero

Do you know what is missing from this list? I propose to include an eighth natural wonder of the world based on the fact that its just as spectacular as the landscape of Rio.

Cape Town. It's beyond words.

Beyond words, indeed, but I'll attempt anyway. Not only is this stunning coastal city hugging beautiful chilly waters of both the Atlantic and maybe a smidge of the Southern Ocean, but it's topped by a plateau that throws the clouds over its summit like a table cloth as well as the twelve jutting crags that line the western face of the mountain range. To look up any street in the city and see in the crisp sky this massive formation just makes the heart melt. The best is when this view comes at you from your hostel WC. Talk about a loo with a view!

Not only is it gorgeous to look at, but it has a scene that bustles. I think I'd have a hard time fitting in all I wanted to do in Cape Town if I had a semester...or even a lifetime. And the exchange rate, which sucks for the SAs but rocks for 'Mericans, makes tasting every morsel of Cape Town life possible.

What is there to do in Cape Town, you ask? If you like to spend money, look at things, eat things, climb up things, free fall, ride around, drink things, or dance around, you'll enjoy yourself in Cape Town. I was certainly overwhelmed upon getting into town, trying to figure out what to do in such a short amount of days. Luckily the Garden Route on our future itinerary gave us some relief as far as adventure sports went, so we could steer more towards those things which are specific to the Table Harbor zone.

What cannot be overlooked, though, is the history that barely dates back more than a decade. In our lifetimes, there was complete havoc between racial and socio-economic lines, travesties committed against people by people. And now this place waits for you at the bottom of Africa, tempting you with sports, wine, and awesome views. It doesn't seem like the dust could have settled by now, and in many ways it hasn't, since racism will continue to flourish probably for decades to come (sadly). So in the mix of traveling throughout this great city, it pays to visit the townships and orphanages that resulted from the human cruelty of apartheid. It's not quite "dark tourism", but it gives you an awareness that could easily be avoided (to your disadvantage) and could definitely enhance the trip.

My best friend wrote on her twitter "Cape Town = Heaven", and I think she's onto something. It's a 15+ hour flight from the States, and yet it feels like our back yard. It's comforting and loaded with things that make a young heart flutter. The African aspect of Cape Town isn't hidden, it's salient and exciting to experience first hand. And with the World Cup hitting the scene in 2010, that city will probably be Heaven on Earth for a couple cool months. If I had a good chunk of change to my name, I'd be signing up for game tickets instead of writing this blog.

In short, I guess you could say, Cape Town is just darn cool. At least...I'm a fan.