Lightning Never Strikes Twice

Trip Start Jun 25, 2003
Trip End Sep 2004

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Flag of South Africa  ,
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Leaving India we were off for our longest journey yet as our ticket routed us Mumbai-Bangkok-Hong Kong-Jo'burg-Cape Town, South Africa. Initially Jan and I considered this route to be nothing more than an out of the way layover. If going east to go west is how the airlines want it, then bring on the air miles. Turns out I'd go even farther east than either of us would have thought.

Believe it or not I had a job interview in Chicago.

Throughout the year I had had phone interviews with a hospital in Chicago and after the last one from India they wanted to meet me in person. This posed a problem as (1) I 'm in India, (2) I'm a grungy backpacker. I don't even own two pairs of pants, let alone an interview suit. I've been a non-working international bum for nine months and now I've got to convince perspective employers that I am the right man for the job. The culture shock alone might kill me, let alone the logistics of getting there.

I won't bore you with the logistical minutiae, but I think the moon landing went off easier. So one minute I am watching the India vs. Pakistan cricket match surrounded by screaming Indian fans in a local bar in Mumbai and then BOOM I am in Chicago wondering what the hell just happened. My 36 hours there were a jet-lagged, surreal, foggy blur. I remember interviewing, hanging out with friends and almost breaking into tears at the sight of the snack aisle at Walgreens. But before I knew it, I was back on a plane for Hong Kong to meet Jan. For those wondering, Jan was so convinced that I would get the job, she spent four days in Hong Kong shopping. We met in the airport and were quickly off for Jo'burg then a short flight to Cape Town. In the end two really good things came from all the travel (1) I got buffalo wings and (2) I got the job.

After flying the wrong way around, I was restored to my status as an international man of leisure once again in Cape Town, South Africa. Cape Town is a stunningly beautiful city. Framed by Table Mountain, it really does look like a table; the city flows out toward Africa's southwestern most point, the Cape of Good Hope.

We balanced our time between enjoying the beauty of Cape Town and absorbing its apartheid past. We visited the District 6 Museum, a memorial to a community destroyed by apartheid. The government razed the houses and resettled the culturally diverse neighborhood into segregated areas of the city. At the museum we had the chance to talk with South Africans who grew up in District 6. Though troubled by the past, they were optimistic for the future as the district is now being rebuilt and families are moving back to reclaim the old streets.

The next morning we got a ferry out to Robben Island in the middle of Cape Town's Table Bay; this doesn't look like a table. Robben Island was the site of a prison for political dissidents during apartheid. Nelson Mandela spent 18 out of his 27 years imprisoned here. Seeing the lime pit where he toiled and the small cell he lived in for so long was incredibly moving. What he endured and his ability to persevere was astonishing. His capacity to forgive but not forget the past in light of all of the years of repression is remarkable, and what is more wonderful is how his attitude is shared by most of the South Africans we have met.

The next day we headed out to the Cape Peninsula National Park to see the Cape of Good Hope. I was a bit concerned because the weather was turning bad and we were hoping to do some biking. Our first highlight was a penguin colony; Janice didn't realize penguins were so cute when they walked. Then, into the park to bike to the edge of the Cape. The cloudy day made the stark coastal scenery even more dramatic as we could see storms brewing just off the coast. We headed down to the beach that marks the southwestern-most point of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope and were taking pictures when it began to rain. Undaunted by the turning of the weather, we decided to hike from the beach across an exposed ridgeline up a seaside cliff to the highest point on the Cape, the old lighthouse. As we climbed, fat droplets of rain smacked all around us and we could hardly hear the sea's roar below us for the thunder that boomed overhead. As lightning lit up the sky, I felt fortunate that we were hiking with several tall people, one of whom had confided earlier that he has a metal rod in his neck from a motorcycle accident.

Leaving Cape Town we headed for Stellenbosch, renown for its beautiful mountainous vineyards and its backpacker wine tasting tours. Our tour began with a two minute demonstration of how to taste wine, (1) swirl in glass, (2) sniff/snort audibly, (3) toss down throat, (4) hand glass back and ask for another. We were handed our first of twenty glasses which we tried our best to properly appreciate. However, appreciation on this scale can only lead to drunkenness. We both ended the day prostrate in the grass outside one of the wineries unable to "taste" another vintage.

We continued along the coast stopping at several seaside towns. All really beautiful but the only way to tell the difference between them was whether people actually lived there or only had holiday homes there. Our favorite was called Coffee Bay, a beautiful little place situated right on a beach, surrounded by bright green undulating hills dotted with pastel colored rondavells, traditional Xhosa homes. We went for a breathtaking coastal hike, enjoyed traditional dancing and drumming and I finally got to take a surf lesson. Surfing is a lot harder than it looks. I thought it was just hanging out in the water and occasionally riding a wave to the beach. But it's not. It was about me vs. the ocean. And me losing. Two and a half hours into the lesson, as I dove beneath a monstrous wave and the board smacked me in the head, I realized that I was glad I was moving to Chicago.
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