Tag Archives: South Africa

How to Find the Secret Hidden Crystal Pools in South Africa

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A backpacker I met in Cape Town filled me in on a neat secret…

Apparently, just outside of the city there is an area in Gordon’s Bay called the Steenbras River Gorge — a remarkably private reserve where only a limited number of people are allowed entry into every day. There, those people have access to a hike leading to five refreshingly natural pools alongside a mountainous, yet precarious trail also inhabited by naughty baboons.

Each pool you come across gets bigger and more extravagant than the last. They are called the Crystal Pools and it’s hidden somewhere in the Steenbras River Gorge. The pools are so crisp and clean, that they are perfect for taking a dip on a hot South African day.

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Of all my years visiting South Africa, I never knew such a place existed!

Jesse, the backpacker who told me about this, his travel buddy Trevor, and I made it our mission to track down these pools. It definitely wasn’t the easiest thing. A pain in the ass actually. Much of the information we found online was inaccurate and outdated.

As a convenience, I’m here to help any of you to avoid the hassle if you find yourself interested in the Crystal Pools.

The Important Stuff

First, know this. The trek to the pools is a bit lengthy, not so straight-forward, and home to thieving wild baboons. Lots of them. But the rewards are worth the task.

So if you are up for the challenge, then this is how you should proceed:

Access to the Crystal Pools Hiking Trail is only possible from the months of November to April. The rest of the months are cold and rainy.

The only way to enter the reserve is to receive a permit via email reservation. There is absolutely no other way to get around this. Trust me, I’ve tried.

What you have to do is send an email to this address: steenbras.naturereserve@capetown.gov.za

In that email, you must state your name, your group size, contact number, and the date you wish to visit.

Depending on holidays and weekends, you should receive a reply from the Steenbras Nature Reserve office within a few days either granting you permission or stating that you need to reschedule another day because it’s already booked.

Try to book as far in advance as possible to ensure your reservation.

If your desired date is available, they will send you an email with rather complex instructions on how to pay for the minimal entrance fee of R65 (price as of Dec 2017).

Basically, to process an electronic payment:

Include the City of Cape Town Municipality as a beneficiary on your transfer and
include this number as the special reference number: 19210834.

The annoying thing about this is that the only way to pay is through a bank transfer or wire. As of this post, there is absolutely no other way. (I’ve tried that too.) You can do this from home at your bank or from an ABSA bank while in South Africa.

After wiring the money to their office, you must prove you did so by emailing them a copy of the proof of purchase or receipt. Once you do that, you should receive a confirmation PDF in a couple of days that you must print out, which is your permit to access the reserve.

You must wire the payment no longer than 48 hours before your visit, as it needs time to process.

(When I did this process, the office didn’t respond to me for over a week! Once they did, they claimed it was because of a power outage along with the bad news that the date I wanted was fully booked.  Later, however, when Jesse tried to reserve for that same date, they granted him permission. I have no idea why they said “no” to me and “yes” to him. Possibly other reservations were canceled or they are just as unorganized as the whole process to access the reserve.)

Whew! All this work just to get into a reserve! Now to the fun stuff!

The location of the Steenbras Nature Reserve appears on Google Maps. You may drive yourself there (there is parking available along the highway further along the R44, just past the bridge and on the right-hand side).

Or just take a taxi or a cheap Uber, like we did. Just remember, if you plan on leaving, make sure you have data service to hire another Uber or it’s quite a walk to find any sort of taxi.

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The red star indicates where the entrance to the reserve is.

The entrance to the reserve is on the end of this bridge.

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And it looks like this.

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Present your permit and then you’re free to go!

Now, remember those naughty, thieving baboons I mentioned earlier?

They are lunatics.

You’ll see warnings about them, reminding you to mind your belongings, and if they try to take anything from you, specifically food, just let them have it. They can become temperamental if engaged. They aren’t everywhere, but you are bound to see some prodding in the distance.

Speaking of food, be sure to pack a lunch and bring plenty of water (no alcohol is allowed in the premises). Any rubbish or trash you have must be brought back with you. There aren’t any trash containers along the trail. One of the reasons a limited number of people are allowed each day is to help preserve the natural area. So please be mindful and respectful.

Onward to the trail!

crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

crystal pools steenbras south africa

The trek begins fairly straightforward–just follow the yellow shoe prints you will see along the way. Eventually, after about 45 minutes to an hour, you’ll reach the first pool.

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The reflection from the pool’s surface.

If you want an easy day, then feel free to stop and take a dip here. If you want an adventure, then skip this one and press on. The pools get better the further you go.

crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

After trekking for an hour or two later among boulders and puzzling pathways, we finally made it to the fifth pool, saving the other pools for the way back. We actually discovered a sixth pool, but it was way beyond our reach and didn’t look as inviting.

crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

We did get to play there for a while, until a troop of baboons kinda kicked us out. One of them chased us back onto the path! Thankfully we already ate our lunch.
No worries. We still had the other pools to swim in.
On our way back, we got a little lost and took an alternate, slightly more dangerous route to get back on the path we took before. Suddenly, we heard a harrowing scream. It turned out to be a group of trekkers who were raided by a group of baboons while they took a swim in pool #4. Possibly the same troop who chased us out of pool #5? Maybe, but the boys and I got the heck outta there and decided to go to pool #3.
No baboons. The coast was clear.

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crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

The water? Cold, but revitalizing under the sun. It was dark and almost a copper color that created a mystifying effect under the water.

crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

At the end of this particular pool was a series of small cascading waterfalls that you could climb all over and bask in. This place was so unreal!

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You’ll notice that there are many places to cliff jump, some as high as 22 meters! It seems perfectly fine to jump from them, all in differentiating heights. So pick your poison! Just know that though these pools are clear, they are a deep black so there’s no telling what’s at the bottom. Feel around for boulders and protruding objects before you make the heroic leap!

crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

The hiking trail to Crystal Pools was an all day thing for us. We arrived there around 9am and left around 6pm. It was terribly easy to get lost, so we made sure to have plenty of time to leave before the sunset.

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The Crystal Pools did not disappoint!

If you have the time in Cape Town, I highly recommend you check out these pristine pools. It’s been rated as one of the best treks to do near Cape Town and for good reason! There weren’t many people around and it’s the perfect way to spend a sunny day in the Western Cape with you and your friends.

If you have any questions about the Crystal Pools, please feel free to ask me! I’ll probably be able to respond quicker than those sloths in the Steenbras offices.


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Kayamandi’s Backyard

With four days of an amazingly successful trip under our belts, we had the Friday off to relax in Kayamandi before we set off for the final day of our trip with the kids, Day 5. I had planned on catching up on blogging since I was and still am severely behind, but Chris had other ideas in mind. Kayamandi is a shanty township that’s surrounded by mountains, valleys, and wine vineyards. It certainly is a sight to behold!

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There is a hill that sits directly behind Kayamandi that we would imagine offers spectacular views of the whole township and even parts of Stellenbosch as well. The only challenge was figuring out how to get there. Kayamandi is a gated community and the hill that overlooks the township is actually a grape vineyard that is privately owned. Mawande, Lupho, Onge, and another kid I never mentioned before named Khanyisa, came over to our house that day. Chris and I wanted to go to the top of the hill through the vineyards and decided the best way was to have Mawande and the other kids guide us to the best possible route. Mawande immediately told us it’s not possible because there were guard dogs who blocked access to the vineyards. We asked him if he could just take us to the entrance anyways and we’d figure it out from there. Mieke and Hanneke joined us for the uncertain trek to Kayamandi’s backyard. We followed Mawande outside of the township to the beginnings of one of the vineyards. As we approached, there was a family outside in a house staring at us with two guard dogs, just as Mawande told us before. We stopped at the foot of the vineyard and had everyone wait while Chris and I went up to ask them if we could have permission to go up the hill. They guy we asked only spoke Afrikaans, so he didn’t understand us clearly, but he understood enough where he motioned the guys behind him to put the dogs away. He pointed for us to go behind the house that blocked access to the vineyard and start from there. We thanked him, called for Meike, Hanneke, and the kids, and we went on our way!

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We weren’t exactly sure where to go; there wasn’t a clear cut path. We saw the top of the hill so we just went with whatever direction we thought was best. At some points we had to cross through the rows of grape vines in order to get closer to where we needed. It was a great day outside today and the views even from where we were walking were incredible!

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We came to a fork in the path, one way led us to one hill while another led us to a different hill. We asked Mawande which hill he thought was best. He chose the one to our right, with the electrical tower at it’s peak – so thats the one we chose! The walk took about 30 or forty minutes and once we made it to the top, there was a small tower we thought we could some good photos from. I helped Chris get up on top and handed him my camera. Chris has been steadily learning how to use my camera as our trip progresses. You could easily just point and shoot, but there are a ton of different settings, options, and techniques to know in order to get that perfect shot. He’s learning! From up top, he was able to get in some pretty great shots and from then we had a little fun with the kids.

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We didn’t want to take the same long route back to Kayamandi, but from a distance we noticed there was a gap in a gate that surrounded the township that we might be able to sneak through. It looked as though there wasn’t a clear path towards the gate, so we figured we’d just make our own! We cut through the vineyards and came to a huge garden of purple lilacs that grew to almost above our heads! There definitely wasn’t a path in sight, so we had no choice but to clear a path of our own. The flowers and plants were so tall that we could barely see each other through them! Mawande, Khanyisa, and Lupho were nice enough to clear a path for the two girls so they would have an easier time marching through the lilacs. They were like little tour guides! Chris had little Onge on his shoulders, otherwise we could of easily lost him in the garden.

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It took about ten minutes or so to get through the lilacs before we finally made it to a part of the township that I have never seen or been to. This part was different, as each home looked more like a house than the shanty sheds did. But as we ventured on further, it grew into the Kayamandi I was accustomed to until finally we made it home. I didn’t do anything else much that night besides play Catan with the girls and blog a little. Tomorrow, everyone would have to be over early again because Isaac would be taking us and the boys on Day 5 of their trip which would begin in Cape Town!

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Globetrotters

It’s about that time. In just a few days, I depart to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam! I have some more information about what’s going on for this lengthy journey. As some of you may know, I will be abroad for approximately six months. This will be my longest duration of being away from home thus far. This six month excursion will be split into two halves. The first half (June to early September) I will be In Vietnam for about a month teaching English to kids there with a volunteering agency called The Green Lion. According to the email I received from them, I’ll be staying at a university in the middle of the city, which means I’ll be living and teaching in the same place. After my placement there is complete, I’ll be traveling to neighboring countries with no agenda whatsoever. The second half of the trip (September through November) I’ll return back to South Africa to reunite with the Zulu’s and the students I connected with there. During that time, I will be visiting different countries exploring their parts as well. As I mentioned in earlier posts, I won’t be traveling alone this time. Let me introduce you to two friends of mine who will be joining me along the way. Get to know em! They will be featured a lot on this blog.

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From: Sheffield, United Kingdom

Met: Muizenberg, South Africa (June 2012)

Ah, Lucy. We caused a bit of a stir in the house together, especially after I left. (Only residents of Recreation Road will understand that). Lucy moved into the Rec 13 house two weeks after I got there and we almost instantly bonded. I always considered her the ‘voice of reason’ within our close-knit group. Out of that crazy bunch she was the most level-headed and even went out of her way to host a pancake party of sorts for my last day with the group before I set out to Tanzania. Before I left, Lucy stayed up with me into the late hours and helped me set up the collage of mementos I left in the living room for everyone. What was great was even after I left to Tanzania, and came back she was still there and the only one of my original group who remained. Lucy was part of the initial plan with Monica528620_10151226542121558_815322316_n to go to Vietnam this summer too. I was more than down but I thought it would never come to fruition because it’s such a huge commitment. Unfortunately, Monica won’t be able to travel with us as she intended but I’m pretty sure she will make up for it next time! Lucy stayed in Muizenberg for six months, so she was well-known around town and made quite a name for herself. The Princess of Muizenberg perhaps? She’s done some things in South Africa that I didn’t even know you could do there! She was there for so long that she even learned how to sweeten up her baking craft at the local “Secret Bakery” and became a staple there. After her time was up, instead of going back home to England, she went to Australia to stay with family there for another whopping six months. So when I see her again in Vietnam, she will still be on her lengthy trip around the world! To make ends meet, she has found a quick little job in Australia working in a sushi restaurant. We’ve kept in touch since the day I left Africa to make this trip happen and I’m happy to say that it’s FINALLY happening! Lucy has a captivating English accent (which by now probably has a little South African zest and a bit of an Australian zing mixed in) that is going to attract all sorts of weirdos so it’s my personal duty to keep her safe and BEAT UP any creep that tries to mess with her. Friends and family of Lucy, she’s in great care.

Goofballs Jaime and Lucy
Goofballs Jaime and Lucy

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Lucy will be traveling alongside me for pretty much the whole first half of this six month gig. I believe her last stop is in Indonesia, which will probably be my last stop until around the beginning of September when I head back to South Africa and join up with another globetrotting buddy of mine.

Chris O’Sullivan index

From: Eagleville, Pennsylvania

Met: Um…on here? Technically, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (April 2012)

Fearless. That’s the one word I’d use to describe this guy. My readers should already be familiar with Chris as he was mentioned earlier and quite a bit throughout my stay in Kayamandi. He’s an aspiring teacher and diving coach back home, but when he’s not doing that, he’s launching frisbees across fields, jumping off of hazardous cliffs for fun, and bustin’ backflips pretty much anywhere that demands it! This upcoming August, while I’m in Asia, Chris will be visiting past volunteers of his own throughout Europe over the summer and we will eventually reunite back in South Africa in September. What’s cool is, we had similar experiences in Kayamandi but at completely different and separate times, so us being there together will be pretty exciting. Mama Zulu, the kids, and Isaac know we are coming back because I told them the next time I comeback, he will be back as well. H296072_277407668958918_2104517161_ne has left a humongous footprint in the small township of Kayamandi when I visited and the teachers and locals always toted him as “crazy”, but the good kind of crazy. If there’s a statue of him made there in the middle of the township when I get back, I wouldn’t be at all surprised! Chris and I became friends through our similar blogs about South Africa, so this will be pretty cool. You can also bet your bank accounts that he and I will be getting into some pretty sweet adventures! And if you didn’t know already, he writes an awesome blog documenting his travels too and you can follow him on the link to the right of this page. A neat thing is once we reunite in SA, you will get two different perspectives of the same endeavors on our own respective blogs. Consider yourselves lucky. I’ll also have to BEAT UP anyone who messes with him too, but he’s the ‘World’s Strongest Man’ as the Kids of Kayamandi liked to call him, so I’m sure he’ll be able to handle his own.

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Chris made a few videos of his time in South Africa back in 2011. Here are two of them!

This first video is the one I used to find his core group of kids last summer…


This second one is great too because at 1:24 RiRi is interrogating interviewing Chris about his friend back home. The kids in this video are the same ones I bonded with last summer.


Reaching Out 2 The World

Back in October of 2012, Chris and I came up with a plan to one day return to South Africa. Soon once we booked our flights for that, we came up with another plan to take the students we once had, on a trip around their country. It’s something that tourists get to do but not the locals because of how expensive it can be. We want to spoil these guys and show them parts of their home they’ve only dreamed about such as going on a wildlife safari, hiking, visiting Table Mountain (one of the seven natural wonders of the world), canoeing through the wilderness, boat trips, visiting one of thnewbirdbranche stadiums where the 2010 World Cup was held, and so much more! But how exactly do we fund such a feat?

We launched a campaign on Indiegogo, an international crowdfunding site where anyone can raise money for film, music, art, charity, small businesses, gaming, theater, and more. The campaign is a project we call “Reaching Out 2 The World”. We even made a logo for it! More than just helping these kids explore their country, we will be reaching out to the world by documenting everything we do on this trip. We’ll be blogging, tweeting, creating videos, shooting lots of photos, and writing letters to keep everyone involved. You’ll feel as close to the experience, no matter where in the world you are, from the comforts of your own home. It’s a pretty cool project and it’s something I’m proud to be a part of.

You can help us out and learn more about it here: REACHING OUT 2 THE WORLD

At the time of this post, with the help of friends and family, we are well on our way to reaching our goal! Everyone who donates also receives a special perk or incentive:

Keep up with this blog and Chris O’Sullivan’s blog to stay up-to-date about what’s going on. Also consider following us on twitter.

The next post, I will finally be out of the country! Less wondering, more wandering. Follow along, and let the adventure begin!

Probably The Toughest Event On The Planet

You ever heard of Tough Mudder? It’s a hardcore 10-12 mile run with obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces to test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie. You get electrocuted, leap through ice pits, trudge through fire blazed hay fields, crawl through mud underneath barbed wire and so much more!Tough-MudderMain2019300645tough-mudder-australia-20121759943241-apr-2-2012-600x396Tough-Mudder-2011-TX-Day-2-Promo-7599no quit

Doesn’t that look like a lot of fun?

It’s like American Gladiators to the extreme! I have been planning on doing this for a while now and assembled a team of some of the toughest people I know to attempt this insane mud marathon. There was one other person who popped up in my mind who would be perfect for this challenge…

Andy

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I met Andy during my first outing in South Africa. He, along with a few others, were the second wave of volunteers to join us at the Rec House in Muizenberg. This guy is a beast! Rumor has it, he did 1000 push-ups everyday, ran along Muizenberg beach back and forth 6 miles every afternoon, and I even heard he sprinted to the top of Table Mountain one time after I had already left. What impressed me the most though was his ambition on education, not just at home, but around the world. Even while in South Africa, he was always busy with different paths to that light with his University and e-mails with scholars. Andy is from Ohio and if you’re from Michigan (like me), then you’re supposed to make fun of anyone from Ohio, and that’s what I did during our stay in Muizenberg. 🙂

Andy and I playing with the kids at the Christian David Primary back in June 2012.

I contacted Andy and asked if he was interested in joining my team of mudders come late April. He was down and it didn’t take too much convincing, especially since the event took place relatively close to him. Andy met up with me at a Holiday Inn, close to the venue the night before challenge day. This is one of the first time friends from home met another volunteer I met during my time abroad and just like I expected, they took a liking to Andy immediately. We caught up on a lot of things. Back in Muizenberg, Andy would spend a lot of time applying for the Fullbright Scholarship and low and behold, ten months later he finally got accepted! I had no doubt he would be chosen, it was only a matter of ‘when’. He’s going to be teaching in Thailand for a year this upcoming fall. What an opportunity!

So back to the Tough Mudder. Officials declared that we participated in the wettest, muddiest tough mudder EVER! And I believe it, because it was 11 miles of nonstop mud stomping and rain. But I enjoyed every second of it!

Mudders 11
Mudders 11

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Funny story. There were 24 obstacles in this event and one of them was the “Wounded Warrior Carry”. It’s an obstacle where we would have to partner up and carry a teammate on our backs about 100 yards through mud, and then switch partners. I always assumed I would be carrying Andy. He’d be easy to pick up; he’s relatively skinny and looks light…well at least since I seen him last June. Fast forward almost 10 months and this guy has gained close to 30 pounds of pure muscle! Even his neck was the size of his head. If I had known that I would have to carry this mountain through 100 yards of mud, I would have carried one of the girls instead! We both made it through though. I may or may not have had to put him down for a second or two…

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We all went to celebrate by stuffing our faces at a nearby restaurant later on. Soon after, Andy had to go back to Dayton, Ohio to return to work bright and early the next day. Before I know it, next time I see him, his calves will be bigger than my head. Live it up in Thailand Andy!

Two weeks before all that fun, I booked a Mega Bus to Chicago to visit some friends. During my stay, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to see…

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This is Chris M. I have to put the “M” to differentiate from all the other Chris’ on this blog! I met him during my first outing in South Africa and we were roommates my entire time there. What’s funny is that Chris lived right under my nose back home in Michigan, maybe about ten minutes within each other, but we’ve never known each other to exist until we met thousands of miles away in Muizenberg, South Africa. Chris was always down for anything fun and he was always full of interesting stories and tales. He graduated from Notre Dame and moved to Chicago back in September to start a new job. Even though he lives the closest to me out of all the volunteers I met, it took me a while to visit him because our schedules just never meshed. Eventually, I planned on visiting some other friends in Chicago and texted him saying I was gonna be around. Fortunately, he finally had some free time from work and we were able to meet up!

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Chris and I on top of Table Mountain. I remember this day being pretty awesome!

Chris joined my friends and I at a tapas restaurant called “Cafe Babareeba”. I don’t remember him being so tall!? On a side note, I’m not the best person to tend with at a tapas restaurant because instead of wanting to share everything, I’d rather devour it all to myself! Anyways, Chris is the first person from my original group at Rec 13 that I met up with and I was the first for him as well. Ever since he’s moved to the area, he’s been super busy with work. It was great that we both had the weekend off to hangout. We caught up on everything and he brought me to speed on everything that happened at the Rec house right after I left. He even went to Kruger National Park on his last week in SA, something no other volunteer has done during my time there. Not only that, he went for free! Unheard of!

After the tapas restaurant, we all decided we were going to do an Irish pub crawl around Lincoln Park, so the five of us squished into a taxi and went to our first destination!

Columbus, Beth, Megan (All friends from home), Myself, and Chris M.
Columbus, Beth, Megan (All friends from home), Myself, and Chris M.

I can’t remember the name of the first pub we went to (or any of them for that matter) but when we got to the second pub is when another volunteer who lived in the area joined us…

Arianna

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I met Ari in Tanzania in July 2012. She entered the old volunteer house one day after I did. She was the only other volunteer at the time to teach at Shining Star with me. She had the “baby” class and I had the kids who were a tiny bit older. I feel a bit guilty because I constantly left Ari on her own as I missed two weeks of teaching from climbing Kilimanjaro and going to Zanzibar right after. She didn’t mind though thankfully! Ari is a kindergarten teacher back home and you could tell because she was absolutely great with the Shining Star kids. A couple of those kids were completely nuts but she was able to handle them like an early-learner teacher should, while I would always hide from them :).  What a trooper! She was also part of my safari squad as we roughed it around the Serengeti, Lake Manyara, and Ngorongoro Crater.

Ari (in the yellow) and myself next to her on our first full day in Tanzania!
Ari (in the yellow) and myself next to her on our first full day in Tanzania!

Ari joined us at the second pub for a few drinks where I introduced her to my friends and to Chris M. I’ve volunteered in a lot of countries over the years and this is the first time that two different volunteers that I have met in different countries have met! I thought this was pretty neat.

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So what has Ari been up to since then? She’s still doing what she loves and that’s educating the leaders of the future! She’s been so busy that she doesn’t have any plans to explore the world as of yet but things could change. I also let her know of my venture in London last Christmas where I saw Pip and Danni.

At this same pub, Chris M contacted another volunteer from our Rec 13 group who I had no idea was in the area otherwise I would have contacted her myself! I’m referring to…

Lisa

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What the heck was Lisa doing in Chicago?! She lives in St. Louis and thankfully Chris put a shout out on Facebook otherwise we would have missed her! She just so happened to be in Chicago too. So yeah, this is Lisa. She’s another from my original group in South Africa. Lisa, along with Andy, arrived to the Rec House two weeks after Chris and I did. We immediately embraced her and we went on a trip to the Garden Route over an extended weekend. I remember Lisa and I having a conversation about how our family and friends back home thought we were crazy for coming to Africa by ourselves, not knowing anyone. We understood each others accord and both knew the rewards were worth the risks (and they certainly were!).

Reunited!
Reunited!

It was so great seeing these guys again, and just like with everyone that I seen in London, it was as  if I just saw them yesterday. Chris had plans to host other volunteers he met in South Africa soon which might include Andy. Chris has been keeping up with my blogs and following me along these adventures which is great! Ari has been doing very well and had to leave us early to attend a birthday. And Lisa has been hard at work with her studies and clinicals and had to leave early to attend other things she had planned. If only I could get the whole Rec 13 crew together again, even if just for a short time, that would make for one heck of a reunion!

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Lisa and Andy standing on top of an ostrich egg in Oudsthoorn, South Africa.
Chris M and Lisa at Brass Bell
Chris M and Lisa at Brass Bell

Andy, Chris M, Ari, and Lisa are the last of the 12 volunteers that I visited since I came back from Africa last year. All of you guys are truly awesome people who I have had the pleasure to meet up with again.

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It’s getting close to my departure date, so for the next post I will introduce you to friends who will be traveling along side me and where I plan on going. There’s a project that I’ve been working on called “Reaching Out 2 The World” that I must tell you all about and I also just received a letter from my coordinators in Vietnam, so I’ll go into detail about that too.

Around The World (With Friends)

When I last posted on here, I just returned home to Michigan from Matt’s bachelor party in Las Vegas. And just in case you were wondering, a month later he finally tied the knot and had one heck of an amazing wedding! I spent a lot of time with the chocolate fountain at the reception, which was conveniently placed a couple of feet away from my table. 🙂

Bryan, Me, Matt (The Groom), Jamison, Joey, Matt

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…Yup…

It’s been about eight months since I left Africa and I still constantly find myself thinking about what was one of the greatest summers, if not THE greatest summer, I have ever had. So much in fact that I have been longing for another one just like it, but in a different part of the world. That adventure would come this upcoming June but in the meantime, like I mentioned before, I kept myself pretty busy. I am bound to meet many more interesting new people in addition to the many I have already had the pleasure to share my global experiences with. So over these past eight months, I decided to visit some of the volunteers friends I met around the world on past trips; at least the ones who live somewhat close to me anyways. Starting with…

Maria

I met Maria in Cuzco, Peru in 2011. I officially met her on the first day of Spanish class held at the volunteer center, Maximo Nivel. We always had a knack of taking over Plaza de Armas with a big group of volunteers on our free nights. Ahh, those were some very memorable times. I will never forget the time when our Spanish teacher, Jorge, told Maria to ask me a question in correct Spanish. She proceeded to ask me, “¿Cuánto cuesta?”, which translates to “How much do I cost?” I was cracking up immediately when she said that, as was everyone else in the class! Oh Maria.

Me and Maria during our first night out at InkaTeam in Cuzco.

Maria lives in Toronto, Canada but was coming down to Ann Arbor, Michigan with her law firm to witness Michigan take on Illinois at the Big House. It’s College American Football to all my foreign amigos. I saw Maria last March for her birthday with all her Canadian friends in Toronto (which was a blast!), and I haven’t seen her since. We decided to meet up after the game and catch up! So I picked her and her co-worker up from their hotel in Ann Arbor and showed them around my turf a bit. Since I last saw her, she has gotten a new job and has been keeping busy at it ever since. She told me how everyone I met in Toronto was doing and it seems they are all doing pretty well. I treated Maria to a feast at a fancy restaurant and then took her to Downtown Detroit, my hometown. She’s never been to this area before but I had the privilege to show her the many positive aspects of the city that holds a negative reputation around the world (it’s really not that bad). At the time of her visit, the Detroit Tigers have just defeated the New York Yankees in the second game of the ALCS (American League Championship Series), so I took her to see the grandness of Comerica Park.

We walked around the city as I was explaining as much as I knew about it (not much) but was able to show her sites like Greek Town, the Riverfront, Ford Field, Campus Martius, and the Joe Louis Arena. “Look how close Canada is just across that river Maria, you can swim to it!” She commented on how all of the buildings looked old-fashioned and worn down, a big contrast with the architecture in Toronto. Yeah, Detroit has tons of abandoned buildings and I have no clue what the city plans on doing with them.

This guy was frozen in time, as we waited for the People Mover to take us around the city.

Eventually, we crossed the Ambassador Bridge, the bridge that links the U.S. to Canada, and I drove her to the airport in Windsor, Ontario. After a little scuffle with the Canadian customs, we said our farewells to each other yet again. I know I’ll be seeing Maria again soon though.

Chris O’Sullivan 

Now, I never actually volunteered with Chris (yet). We both were teaching in Kayamandi, South Africa but at different times. I volunteered a year after he did, but he and I had taught at the same school, stayed with the same host family (Mama Zulu) and even hung out with the same group of kids  His blog he wrote about his experience paved the way for my second outing in South Africa, and I enjoyed every second of it. Once he found out I was going to Kayamandi, he was able to reconnect with his kids through me. The kids called him on my phone, made him videos, and wrote and drew letters and pictures that I would send to him later on. He was very appreciative and I was glad to help out.

If you’ve read any of my earlier posts detailing my experience in Kayamandi, then most of these kids will look familiar to you.

Chris lives just two states below me in Pennsylvania, in a suburb near Philadelphia. We decided to meet up sometime and so that’s what we did. I flew to PA for the weekend and met up with the legend himself. Why a legend you ask? I don’t think he realizes just how much of a tremendous impact he left on the township of Kayamandi. During my time there, I heard so many cool stories about him from everyone, it was like he was a fabled myth or something. Before I stepped foot into Pennsylvania, honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. I only knew that I wanted him to help me find the best Philly Cheese Steak sandwich in the world!

Chris scooped me up from the Philly airport and we made our way through the city to his parts. On the way he showed me a couple of books he made with photos of his Africa trip in them. I was able to ask him things all about it and vice-verse. Our Africa trips were similar yet very different at the same time, if that makes any sense. We had a fun-filled weekend ahead of us, so what was first on the agenda? Chris is a dive coach and he planned a special Halloween event with his diving team at a nearby corn maze.

Chris (top-right) and his team of divers.

After quickly navigating through the maze, some of the divers parents invited us back to their place for a little after-party. As a matter of fact, the next day we went to someone else’s parents house for a little shin dig there as well. Everyone back home near Detroit would be happy to know that everyone I met here in Pennsylvania so far (besides being super friendly) were rooting for Detroit to win the World Series. We all know how that eventually turned out so I won’t dwell on it.

Then something happened that I wasn’t expecting at all: Hurricane Sandy. I never thought Penn would be affected by it until I got here. The mayor here even declared Pennsylvania a State of Emergency! People were stocking up on water and supplies, and we even saw some people boarding up their windows. You know what we stocked up with? Vitamin water. Loads and loads of Vitamin Water. That’s all we needed! Also, because of Sandy, my stay in Pennsylvania extended from three days to about a week. My flight on that Sunday cancelled and I would be able to fly out the following Thursday. Good news is, Chris was more than accommodating and we had a lot of fun. Bad news was that I was missing some pretty important things going on back at home. But you know what? I made the best of my extended stay.

So over the course of the next few days we carved pumpkins, went to a driving range, ate at Wawa’s a few times, lost all of our money at the nearby casino, and visited a few more of his friends around the area who welcomed me with open arms (and drinks and lots of food!). Chris was hosting a Halloween party at his place on Halloween night. My problem was, I didn’t bring a costume! I didn’t think I needed one until Sandy demanded I stay here a bit longer. So I went out and whipped up something real quick. I transformed into an old-school rapper. You can just call me “D-Money” or simply just “D$” for short.

I got more than I expected coming here and fortunately Sandy didn’t wreak this part of the state as much as it did elsewhere. On the way back to the airport the next day, Chris mentioned how one day he wants to take some of the kids we had in Kayamandi and bring them over to America for a little bit. We came up with ideas and suggestions on how to fund such a feat. It’s possible. At the time of my visit, we were still in the early stages of planning a return to South Africa, both of us together at the same time, where we can reunite with Mawande, Riri, Ski, and the gang once again and also the Zulu family and Isaac. When that happens, I’ll be sure to tell you all about it on here. (Hint: It’s gonna happen soon.) Oh, I never got the chance to find the best Philly Cheese Steak sandwich in the world, but that just gives me another excuse to come back down here again one day.

Interesting note. I actually visited both Maria and Chris again in March and May of 2013, respectively. I took a train to Toronto, Canada to visit her and her boyfriend Dan (along with the rest of their friends whom I’ve already met last year) for Dan’s surprise birthday party. Later on in May, I flew back to Pennsylvania for a ‘Cinco de Drinko Taco Taste Off” that Chris was hosting. I finally got to taste an authentic Philly Cheese Steak sandwich, but more importantly we were able to discuss our plans for something pretty awesome down the road. I’ll tell you all about it soon.