Tag Archives: Stellenbosch

All The Reasons Why South Africa Is The Perfect Place To Wine

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Western Cape, South Africa is the Shangri-La of all things wine. The Garden of Eden of wine.  The absolute nirvana of wine ecstasy.

Not to discredit world-renowned wine capitals such as France, Italy, Spain or any others, but everyone already knows how distinguished and prized they are, unlike the hidden gem and severely underrated wine region of Western Cape, specifically in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.  South Africa is the underdog in the world of all things wine and now, more and more people are discovering just how impressive it truly is. If you’re a complete wine enthusiast or love wine even just a little bit, treat yourself and get down to Western Cape for a truly pleasurable experience.

Here’s why:

imagesIt’s Scenic Everywhere You Look

South Africa is one of my favorite countries because of how stunning it is. Oceans, mountains, rivers, valleys, lakes, forests, deserts, vineyards–it’s all here in one relatively small pocket of the world. Each winery I visited in Western Cape (I lost count) was complemented by mother nature during her finest.

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Even my Airbnb in Franschhoek was surrounded by acres of beautiful vineyards and mountainous backdrops.

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What did I do to deserve all of this?

imagesMore Accessible Than Ever

Western Cape presents to you more options than ever to get your wine game going strong. Private shuttles, Ubers, cabs, trains, trams, wine buses, bicycles, and even Segways are at your service when it comes to getting around. My favorite option was the trams and wine trains in Franschhoek which normally requires a reservation.

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In many cases, you don’t have to book a tour in advance. On two occasions, we walked right up to a tourist information center in Stellenbosch and enquired about a wine tour to go on there and now. Soon enough, a knowledgeable driver arrived to chauffeur us around. On another occasion, we simply had different Uber’s take us around to the random wineries we chose on our maps. On another occasion, we took a series of Hop-on, Hop-off buses in Franschhoek to a few wineries. Getting around safely and responsibly was never an issue.

imagesThe Unbeatable Pairings

Sure, wines are known to be carefully paired with select cheeses and chocolates, but where else in the world can you have your wine paired with biltong?

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Biltong is basically South Africa’s unique version of beef jerky. Though the biltong here can be made up of some of the most interesting game meats–from springbok to kudu and even ostrich. They all pair quite well with your reds.

Besides the biltong, you have your go-to pairings of favored cheeses, chocolates, sweets, and other nicknacks all available to your liking.

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imagesYou Will Meet Some Fantastic People

Wine tours attract thirsty people from all around the world who enjoy divulging in the finer things in life. In this case, wine. And in my experience, wine people are happy people. You’re bound to meet others who share in your wine commonality. I met a group of frat-like Dutch dudes who joined in on a custom tour and on another occasion, I accompanied a group of beautiful ladies on a special birthday wine tour that they thoroughly enjoyed.

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imagesThere’s No Better Place To Discover Pinotage

Did you know South Africa has their own varietal of red wine they invented? It’s called Pinotage and there is no better place in the world to try it. It’s a red blend: Pinot noir and Hermitage, hence PINO TAGE. Western Cape offers that and every other varietal you can imagine. As a special bonus, South Africa also offers some of the finest selection of Brandy in the world!

 

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imagesIt’s Conveniently Affordable

I’ve been to South Africa a handful of times over the past five years and have been able to go on SO many wine excursions because of how affordable they are. At one of my favorite vendors, Muratie, I even shipped a few bottles back home to Michigan right there on the spot. As of this post, the US dollar is doing well in South Africa, which means more to spend on your favorite Cabernet or Sauvignon blanc.

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I found a tour that shuttled you roundtrip from Cape Town and included six different wineries with five tastings at each winery and lunch included for R800 which translates to about $65 USD. Quality pricing!

imagesThere’s More Than Just Wine

Another thing that’s great about the wine region here is that there is an abundance of other things to do during your wine day. There are tons of exceptional restaurants and bars, shops and cafe’s, malls and theaters. There was even an instance where a friend and I went to a champagne tasting at the House of J.C. LeROUX and then immediately after went to go play with monkeys in a conservation outreach nearby!

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imagesTips To Make The Best of Your Wine Excursion

  • The wineries in Western Cape are open year round but the best time to visit is during the late spring and summer when the weather is ideal. Remember that the summer in South Africa is in the December to February months.
  • Many wineries, especially in Stellenbosch, close earlier on Saturdays for some reason. Some as early as noon! For that reason, Fridays are the most popular days for wine tours.
  • However, there are a couple exceptional outdoor food markets in Stellenbosch that are only open on Saturdays. Root 44 and the Slow Market in Stellenbosch are the two most popular. There they serve lots of fresh and delicious food in addition to great wines. Beginning there on a Saturday morning is never a bad idea!
  • The birthday girl in one of my wine groups got lots of free samples and larger pours when she told our wine hosts it was her birthday. Hint hint 🙂
  • Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are home to an insane amount of different wineries and I have yet been to a bad one. You should have no trouble finding any as they are all relatively in close proximity to each other.
  • Pace yourself. You’ll be surprised just how fast the wine creeps up on you.
  • There are many other wineries outside of the neighboring towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, but these two places have the most wineries by far.
  • There are loads of accommodation in Cape Town that cater to wine tours, along with hostels, hotels, and Airbnb’s in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. Many companies offer direct pickups and returns.

Happy WINEing 🙂

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Sports Day. German Night.

Now that everyone was recovered from the party, Chris had a sports day planned for as many kids as possible. He had a huge donation of jerseys and shorts from his frisbee friends back home that he wanted to give to the kids. The idea was that we all go out to the soccer field right outside of Ikaya Primary, and have a day playing frisbee, soccer, and whatever. That afternoon, Mawande, Aphiwe, Wande, and one of Mawande’s friends that I never met came over to Zulu’s. Hanneke, Mieke, and myself joined them to the soccer field, picking up random kids along the way who wanted to play. We didn’t have a big group at first, but as the day progressed, the field was filled with kids! A lot of the kids were wearing the jerseys Chris had brought with him and many of the jerseys were too big, but they wore them anyways. Teams were split into two for a soccer match, the Mieke Stars and Hanneke’s team.

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Chris joined in on a team that was losing by a landslide and then I eventually joined for a bit. Other kids started to show up at the field who could turn the tables, and I quickly resumed the camera. It was a pretty great day for all those kids getting active instead of playing with our Apple products inside all day.

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Later on after we were done, we walked back to Zulu’s. Chris, Hanneke, and Mieke bought tickets prior to watch Lelethu sing and perform at Amazink. Anyone who knows me at home knows that I’m not a big fan of singing concerts, plays, or musicals really so I opted not to go. (I will be going eventually on a later post).While they went, I pretty much had the night to myself. But just as I was about to go to bed, I hear a knock at my door. It was Gesa asking if Eric was around. He wasn’t. She then told me, she wanted me to come out into town with her, Theresa, and Clara. The idea of going to clubs doesn’t thrill me either, even though it is a lot of fun, I usually ALWAYS spend way too much money. But, I never hung out with these three German girls before, so I thought “Why not?” and decided to join them. I pampered up and we all got a ride from their friend Ben into Stellenbosch. Where were we headed? Cubañas!

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I was a little surprised to hear that the girls have never been to Cubañas since the other volunteers frequent this place quite a bit. It was a packed Friday night, so while we waited for a table, I introduced them to springbok shots, a South African specialty! We finally got a table and ordered some nachos and more spirits between all of us. Cubañas was the “pregame”, if you will, before we went to one of the nightclubs.

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While we were there, the bartenders put on a fire performance while juggling bottles. I couldn’t stop laughing because there was a lady at the bar who would scream in horror whenever a flamed bottle dropped on the floor!

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We stayed at Cubañas for awhile enjoying ourselves before we left and walked to a place called the Catwalk. Unfortunately none of the girls had their I.D’s with them so they weren’t allowed in. No matter, we could walk in any direction and find another place. Speaking of which, this is the first time I walked through Stellenbosch at night and I never realized there were so many nightclubs hidden within the normal everyday restaurants and markets. There were college students everywhere! Stellenbosch is a college town so it made sense. It’s just that out of all my time I spent here, I never witnessed Stelly like this. Anyways, we walked a short distance across the town hall to a nightclub called Entourage. It was like any typical club I’ve been to all over the world. And just like usual, whenever I end up going to one of these, I end up spending more money than I wanted but it always equals a very great time which makes it worth it!

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We left around 2 am in the morning and I ran to McDonald’s because we all had the late night munchies. Just like in America, there is a McDonald’s monopoly here and I’ve collected a bunch of pieces!

You would think after so many pieces, we would of won SOMETHING by now! But besides a few free Big Mac’s and whatnot, nothing! We waited outside of town hall where we were being goofballs until Ben came and picked us up and took us back home where we enjoyed our late night snack before going to bed. I had to convince the girls that I don’t eat McDonald’s back in Michigan this much at all! It’s just a comfort food here…and it’s always open.

Tomorrow, Chris, Hanneke, Mieke, and I all planned to go to Muizenberg to try our hand at surfing once again!

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Fermented Grapes and Fuzzy Apes

Great news! My iPod has rose from the dead! It got soaked while rafting in Pai (don’t mind why I brought an expensive electronic on a white water raft) and wouldn’t turn on. I’ve kept it ever since though, with the small glimmer of hope that it would work again. I nonchalantly put it on the charger and like magic, it turned on! I had some feel good songs to reacquaint myself with.

Anyways, today Isaac planned on picking Chris and I up and taking us to Lord knows where. But first we had to run into Stellenbosch and pick up a few supplies, including postcards to send to most of the people who donated to our campaign for the kids. Us and the kids are in the process of writing messages on them all now so expect a postcard in a few weeks, I would imagine. After running around town, Isaac picked us up from the minibus station around noon and took us to Franschoek. Franschoek is essentially a wine country neighboring Stellenbosch. He took us to The House of J.C. LeROUX, a facility known for processing champagne and sparkling wines. Let’s do some tasting!

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I’m not a fan of champagne really, but the champagne offered here was probably the best I’ve ever tasted. We had five glasses of different champagnes, including an extra sixth one that Isaac was able to smooth talk the staff into giving us for no extra charge. Each glass was paired with a candy or chocolate of some sort. I love candy, but I came to find that I don’t like eating candy and drinking champagne at the same time. It’s just…weird. At least to me. Also, I don’t really care for higher end, upscale candies and chocolates. I’ll take a Reese’s or Twix over fancy schmancy chocolates any day!

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We had no idea where we were going next, but Isaac took us to another vineyard, this time to Deheims Winery, a facility started by a German wine enthusiast. Here, they specialized in port wines, which are traditionally a lot sweeter than your norms. The layout of the winery was identical to an old cellar. There were even cobwebs that were purposely left in the windows to show how old this place was. Old wine means good wine so we were up for it!

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First we tried a few ports. They weren’t too bad. Next the host gave us tastings of different Pinot Noirs and Merlots. I prefer smooth wines over most and these wines were as smooth as can be. They were so great that I bought two of them on the spot and had them shipped back home! I bought another for myself for later. The wine I bought is called Ansela van de Caab and is grown and produced by Muratie. Muratie actually names each varietal of their wines after a member of the family. Ansela has the prestigious distinction of being paired with the flagship wine of the company. We tried a few different glasses, and each glass was paired with more chocolates. I still didn’t like eating chocolates and drinking wine together in my mouth but the chocolates by themselves were alright.

One of the best things about enjoying wine, champagne, and the likes is that it gets me super hungry. Same with Chris. Actually, it might just be because we didn’t really eat anything substantial this morning for breakfast; just a cinnabon. Isaac took us to Gino’s, a pizza place, nearby in Stellenbosch. This was my first time here but Chris has been here numerous times before. I ordered a delicious pasta that did the trick.

Chris has always said that on this trip, one of the things he wanted to do the most was hold and play with monkeys. Isaac knew a place nearby where that could happen called “Monkey Town” that neither of us ever knew existed! We made a quick drive and arrived to our destination. This place was similar to Monkey Land except on a much smaller scale and not as many monkeys. But, more importantly, Chris and I were able to have a monkey encounter!

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The monkeys we interacted with were a few squirrel monkeys, a wolf monkey, and a very timid ring-tailed Lemur named King Julian. I think this is the third lemur I’ve met named King Julian. The squirrel monkeys were pretty playful and would leap around on our shoulders, heads, laps, arms, and anything they could to reach the peanuts and cheetos we had in our hands for them. I could never get enough of their tiny human-like hands lifting each of our individual fingers one by one, to try and find something to eat. I tried my best to get King Julian to socialize with us but he was too shy. I did manage to get him to take some food out of my hand though. Before we knew it, our time limit was up and we were encouraged to go around Monkey Town and see all the other monkeys that were in an enclosure. The other monkeys included capuchin, tamarin, owl, and spider monkeys. There were also parrots and meerkats around, and also a caracal which I really wanted to play with really bad!

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It’s great to have a local friend like Isaac who can take us around and show us places that a lot of tourists don’t go to. Although I don’t consider myself a tourist at all here in South Africa, I practically live here! I don’t think I really thought about what exactly we were going to be doing today – all I knew was whatever we would be doing, it would be a good time.

And there was no better way to spend the day than drinking tons of wine and playing with monkeys. 🙂

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Thank You

Before I came to Africa, I knew I would spend a size-able portion of my money on getting the kids I met a substantial amount of school supplies, so I included that into my budget. I never thought to ask people for donations because…honestly, I don’t know why; I have no good reason. I figured I had enough saved up to buy a lot for them already. A couple of weeks ago, some friends read about all the great things I was doing for these kids and wanted to help out. One of those friends, Kelly Ellsworth, suggested I open a PayPal account so she and others could donate money and help out too. I already planned on getting these kids a lot, but now with their donations I could get them lots more! Thanks to all of you who have sent these kids money, I was able to buy them a few extra thousand Rand worth of goods in addition to the few thousand Rand I had already put aside for them! Now the next step was to find out exactly what these kids needed. How about everything haha! I personally asked some of the teachers at my school and they suggested a few things that they were in desperate need for. The main item: pencils!

You won’t believe how difficult it is to find a pencil with a rubber (eraser) on top of it in South Africa! In the States, you can go anywhere and buy a pack of reliable pencils, but not here; you have to hunt for them. I’ve bought pencils for a few classes before, but they would lose or break them within a day or two. It’s unsettling to know these children aren’t very responsible with their things, but hopefully at least with my elite eight, I can tell them how much money people have given up to get them nice things and hopefully they will be more careful with them and appreciate it more. I planned on taking an early leave from school on Monday to go into town and buy everything. Oh yeah by the way, on my way into town, three guys made an attempt to mug me. Let’s just say, they need to try harder next time. True story. But anyways…

I went wandering around Stellenbosch to see where I could get the most bang for my buck. I found a few places, relatively near each other. One of the places, Juves Bookstore, had a lot of things my kids needed and the manager was very cooperative and even game me a 10% off discount because I spent so much. I had bags and bags of stuff, too heavy to carry around. I didn’t even think of this fact prior to. I had to hire a taxi to lug me around town with all my things, and also make a few stops along the way to other stores. I bought tons of things though. Here’s a rundown of supplies I bought for them: packs and packs of notebook paper, piles of notepads, black and blue pens, coloring pencils, coloring markers, big rubbers, little rubbers, big pencil sharpeners, little pencil sharpeners, folders, filers, plastic sleeves, drawing paper, glue sticks, pencil cases, white-out markers, labels, backpacks, easy read magazines, highlighters, rulers, book covers, and a truckload of pencils, some with rubbers on top and some without. It wasn’t just all school supplies, I also got them each several dozen action comics (Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Iron Man, etc), Ben 10 stickers, bags of candy, and a couple of paperback books. These boys would be entering high school soon, so I bought them each some Axe Body Spray to attract the ladies and packs of minty fresh gum to keep those ladies around ;). Knowing these guys, the gum will probably be gone by the next day though. That’s not all, I owned a few things they liked that I decided I would give to them. My rugby balls, my portable speakers, my wrestling belt, and some shirts that had the University of Michigan logo on them. I even drew them each a picture of their favorite Dragonball Z character, with a personalized note from myself (I will give those out to them right before I leave.) The amount of school supplies I bought each of them should last for more than a whole school year. Besides taking care of my group of kids, I thought I should at least spread some love to my grade 6. I bought each learner in grade 6 and 7 a pencil and rubber and I even had enough to distribute to the grade 5 classes.

I couldn’t fit everything on this table.

After school on Monday, I told the boys to come over because I had something I wanted to show them. I never told them that I would be getting them all of this stuff. One by one they all came over and saw the table and floor full of school supplies. They looked like kids on Christmas Day! But before that, I took them all into Stellenbosch and got everyone one of my favorites desserts in the world, Cinnabons! They never had it before but loved it almost as much as I do haha! I took them to lunch, or probably dinner at this point to McDonalds (yeah yeah I know). Soon we made our way back to Zulu’s. I gave each of them a bag and distributed the items as evenly as possible. Over these past few weeks with them, I had to keep telling them to say ‘please’ and ‘ thank you’ because they rarely ever said it. That night when I gave them all those things, they were full of ‘thank you’s’, which I was happy to hear. I had to explain to them, that a few people, including myself have paid a lot of money to buy all these things for them so they needed to be responsible and take care of it all. I think they understood because they were silent and completely focused on me when I was telling them. Usually they stay over until around 8 or 9, but they all wanted to run home to their parents and show off their things, which was completely fine.

About a week or two ago, Chris came up with the idea to start some kind of education fund for these kids to help them out because they really need it. Setting up a PayPal was a baby step in the right direction but we are currently in the midst of figuring out the best way to execute the idea. That may take some time, but once we figure something out, we’ll be sure to let everyone know!

Falling With Style

I have been trying to sky dive since way back in June, and there was always something that intervened, mainly the weather. However that would all change today; I finally will be able to jump out of an airplane! And the weather couldn’t have been any more perfect, absolutely no cloud in this blue sky. It was sunny, the temperature felt great, and no sign of rain. Today was the day my friends. 🙂

I missed school again, but this time my teachers had no idea I would be absent. I wasn’t able to tell them yesterday because I was abseiling. But I’m sure they’ll be fine, maybe not Zuki. She is probably going insane right now because I’m not around to help with their computer troubles haha! I’ll be back tomorrow to set things straight. In the meantime, I took a train to Cape Town in the morning to meet up with some volunteers from the Rec House who were also going to jump: Larry, Jess (U.K), and three new volunteers I haven’t met yet who are from somewhere in Europe. Isaac was nice enough to take us to sky dive initially, but he had an important tour that came up, so instead he sent his friend Maude to take us. The drive was about 45 minutes north of Cape Town, just below the Sands of Atlantis over a scenic, almost deserted route. We pulled up to a warehouse that held two small planes, the same planes we would all be going on, three at a time. None of us has ever sky dived before and there’s no better place to do it than in this beautiful panorama of the Western Cape. I didn’t care if I went first or not, but I was asked to go with the second group of three because the first group was the lightest or something. I wasn’t too nervous yet, and I figured I wouldn’t be until the moment before I jumped.

The first group left and I watched them as they all squeezed into a tiny plane. They were extremely nervous, but brave enough to finish their task at hand. My group was next. We put on our harness and met our tandem partner. The fact that my guy showed no ounce of nervousness made me feel relaxed and not as uneasy as I thought I would be. I had more butterflies bungee jumping than I did here.

The dive crew.

I was more excited than anything! We walked to the tiny aircraft and my tandem partner hopped in and said to me, “Come and sit between my legs.” Haha! I was laughing then, and laughing now just thinking about it. But sat between them I did. I never been on a plane so small before. We were pretty much jammed inside as we lifted off into the sky. The pilot announced that it would be a 20 minute plane ride to about 10,000 feet into the air; at least I think he said 10,000 feet, I was too excited to comprehend. On the way up, we could see all of Cape Town and then some. Table Mountain, Robben Island, all of the beaches, farmlands, vineyards, skyscrapers, the ocean, everything!

Amazing

Soon our tandem partners attached themselves to us. And then the moment came – the pilot shouted, “Open the hatch!”

I watched Larry jump out first; as he was the closest to the hatch.

Bye Larry haha!

I think my jaw was just about on the floor the whole time as I saw him fall into the abyss. The other volunteer I was with went out next (I forget her name, but I know she’s from Luxembourg). I wish I could have seen the expression on my face as I watched them leap off! I’m sure I looked funny. I was next up, and the last to jump. I shuffled towards the hatch until my legs were dangling off the plane. Alright, NOW I was nervous haha! I clutched my harness and tilted my head back, as I was instructed to, and before I knew it, I was free-falling in the sky.

#%#@*$$^@^(^@%$!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I got a tap on my shoulder, which meant I was free to let go of my harness and spread my wings. I don’t remember what I was shouting but I know they were certainly shouts of excitement pumped full of adrenaline. It looked as if the landscape below me wasn’t getting any closer, as the wind pummeled against my body. I loved every single micro-second of it. Suddenly, my partner pulled his cords and a parachute shot out of his backpack. Soon enough we were cruising in the air. And at that same moment, I didn’t feel too good.

I think my face says it all lol

I felt like I was going to vomit any second, in midair. Mr. Vertigo paid a visit to me (again) in the middle of the sky. I can’t say this was totally unexpected, because if you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you’d know that everything EVERYTHING that moves seems to make me feel queasy haha! I didn’t eat anything that morning because I didn’t want to risk puking. It didn’t work, my stomach was uneasy. My tandem partner had no idea I felt like crap because I was laughing and bursting shouts of joy as we were falling. I bet if he could have seen my face after he pulled the cord he would have got the hint. I didn’t want this to interfere so I pretended I was fine. He gave me the handles to the parachute and let me guide for a little bit. “Pull your right arm towards your stomach!” he shouted. I did that and found that maneuver twisted us rapidly, spinning us round and round. He was laughing behind me, but my stomach was churning even more. There was really nothing I could do. It’s not like he could pull over real quick, let me stop to vomit, and then continue parachuting down. I had to wait until we made our proper landing.

I had to put my ‘wanting to vomit’ feeling aside for the camera!

I could see the Luxembourg girl a little down below me land, but there was no sign of Larry. Eventually, we made a perfect, smooth landing in the middle of the sand target, much to my relief. But I tell you, as soon as I landed, I felt perfectly fine again. Even with that brief queasiness, that was one of the most exhilarating things I have ever done in my life! Larry came down and landed right after me. I asked my tandem partner how did I land before Larry? He said it’s because I weighed more.

We met up with the first group who jumped and we were all still pumped about what we have just accomplished. I told the guides I felt like was going to vomit up there and I asked if it was normal to feel that way. He said it usually happens when people don’t eat. Go figure. I didn’t eat, to prevent just that but it turned out it worked against me. I would definitely sky dive again, but not on an empty stomach! Overall, the thrill of it overshadowed my queasiness. I love this.

After all was said and done, Maude dropped the Rec House volunteers at the train station and he was nice enough to take me home to Kayamandi. Good thing because I did not want to get on another train. When he dropped me, I saw two kids down the block playing with my soccer ball. Now was my chance to take back what’s mine! I walked toward the kids, and as I got closer, it turned out to be a girl and a boy, about nine or ten years old, playing with my ball by themselves. When I got close to them, they kicked the ball towards me and I felt how deflated and soft it was. It was definitely my ball, but it was now brown instead of white and there were cuts and scrapes all over it. I kicked the ball back towards them. Even if the ball looked like it did when I had it, I wouldn’t have the heart to take it from these two kids. It would have been a different story if it were the older kids who were playing though. So long soccer ball.

The two kids were were innocently playing with my ball.
It was nice knowing ya Wilson.

The Spanish girls time in Kayamandi was just about up, but before they departed, they wanted to make a special dish from Spain for the whole family and us volunteers. It was very tasty and I was just glad they didn’t make me cook anything or otherwise I would have ruined dinner for everyone haha! I went and laid in my bed right after that. All I kept thinking was, “Could I squeeze in another dive before I leave Africa?” Possibly…:)