Sunday, May 26, 2013


Going home.

Overall I am excited to go home and see people again and to be home, but I am very sad leaving my students. Teaching here in South Africa has been an amazing life changing experience. It's also been an eye opening adventure in terms of education. As an American, I see education from one perspective, but now having taught in a school that does not have an American perspective, I am able to see things in a different light. I don't want to get off on a philosophical rant, but it really has been interesting. If you'd like to know more about the philosophical side of things, call me in a few days and we can have coffee and talk!

I'll leave you with what my students wanted to leave me with:

Friday, May 10, 2013

Elephants & Grahamstown

Today, I decided I should take a couple minutes and add another blog post. The last one I wrote was about bungee jumping...3 weeks ago! As of right now, I have 16 days left in South Africa. It's amazing how time works. Sometimes I feel like I've been here forever, and other times I feel like I'm still a stranger and need more time. Overall, though, I'm looking forward to coming home and seeing the people I love and miss in just over 2 weeks!

The first weekend I was back from traveling, Dr. Baxen took Anna, Wellyna and I to Addo Elephant Park. Elephants are such amazing creatures; I could watch them for hours and be content. It was raining on the day we went to Addo, but the animals were still out and we had some very interesting encounters. Check out the pictures and video below. I wish all my friends could be here to experience this as well. 

Since I've been back from my travels, I have been teaching/planning/marking and looking for jobs back in the US. Wellyna left about a week and a half ago and walked in her graduation ceremony on Saturday! Crazy! We had a going away party for her  at
 the Rat & Parrot which is a local restaurant/bar. The weekend before she left, the three of us met up with a friend and walked around the Botanical Gardens in Grahamstown and went to the coolest coffee shop. The building used to be an old jail (built in 1838) and was made circular so the guard could watch all the inmates at once. The coffee shop is in the guard house and the guest sit in the common area surrounded by cells. The cells have been converted into study rooms (complete with outlets) for the university students! Awesome concept! 

After Wellyna left, I moved from the big house to the cottage out back with Anna. Below are some pictures of the cottage where I'll be living for the next two weeks. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Nature's Valley

Bloukrans Bridge. I bungee jumped from this!
 Nature's Valley (that's seriously the name of the town...yay!) was the perfect place to spend the last days of my holiday. The Baz bus drove down a narrow dirt road and dropped me off at a wonderful hidden place away from the craziness I just came from in Wilderness. I stayed at Rocky Road backpacers and was greeted by Rocky himself as I walked off the bus. He immediately asked if I'd like to join them for dinner that night - he was cooking. Yes, please!

Tents on platforms
Suzie, who moved to South Africa from the Netherlands and now works at Rocky Road, showed me to my new home for the next few days - a tent on a platform with a double bed, nightstand and lamp! My own tent! I've been wanting to sleep in a tent for a while, and I was ecstatic to have the chance to do so. I was also excited to have a place away from people for a little while and have a place to call 'my own.'

That night, I had dinner with Rocky and his family along with the other 4 backpackers and some volunteers. The other backpackers (two couples) were actually going 'real' backpacking the next morning on the Otter Trail. I've been told a few times that I should do this trail, but unfortunately, I don't have 5 days to go backpacking or the gear to do so. One day when I come back, I'll definitely have to go. These couples were amazing and so much fun. We played a game after dinner (yes, those of you who know me, I did play a game...for 2 hours!) and had a blast. We were laughing all night long. Good company is such a blessing.

One of the best parts of this backpackers are the bathrooms. I'm not kidding. They have a "Forest Bathroom." This bathroom is down a little dirt path into the woods and is one room. In the room, a bathtub sits next to a few picture windows looking into the woods. Best. Bathroom. Ever. They also have an outdoor shower looking out across a field with a beautiful mountain backdrop where the only things things that you can see (or that can see you!) are the possible (hopefully far off) baboons. Happy? Yes!

View from the outdoor shower
Speaking of baboons...those animals make me so nervous. Not only are they incredibly smart, they are also incredibly dangerous. If one gets into a fight with a big cat, they actually have a chance of winning. Their incisor teeth are larger than a lion. Unfortunately, they are curious creatures, and equally unfortunate in this situation, I was sleeping in a tent. In the morning, I woke to their barking that sounded too close for comfort. 

I have rediscovered the importance of lazy days. My first day at Rocky Road (Tuesday) was a lazy day. I actually did some work on my resume and basic cover letters and skyped with Kase. Suzie kept asking me if I was bored and if I was fine just staying at Rocky Road. I assured her that I was more than fine just being there for the day. 

The big, exciting day came on Wednesday when I bungee jumped off of Bloukrans Bridge. I have always said that bungee jumping has never interested me and that I would never do it. Well....apparently I found some interest. Once I decided, I honestly told everyone that I just met at Rocky Road so they would hold me accountable. It worked. 

Rocky Road drove me to the bridge and I paid my R750 (just over $80) so couldn't back out without losing money. First, we had to walk under the bridge on the 'catwalk' to the jump point. The walk has an open grate which is also slightly flexible. Many people say this is scarier than the jump itself. I don't really remember this part except that I kept thinking that I was going to be jumping off a bridge very soon and praying that I wouldn't die.

They told us that if we think about it, jumping will be harder. Well I'd imagine so...maybe that's because it's CRAZY! It's amazing how fast the workers strap us in and tell us what to do. Everything they clipped on they said aloud which made me feel slightly better...slightly. After they wrapped my feet in the "harness" pad-like things, two guys grabbed my arms and brought me to the edge. was high. I grabbed their shirts and said something like "Ahhhh." Their response? "Look at the mountains. 5-4-3-2-1 Bungee!" and I jumped. Don't ask me how I jumped and didn't hesitate. I have no idea. These guys are so good at their job, hardly anyone hesitates. They don't give time for that. 

As I was beginning to fall, I don't remember anything, but when I looked down at the rocks, I started having fun. I know this is crazy because the bungee definitely had not caught yet, but I distinctly remember thinking "THIS IS AWESOME!" as I was soaring toward the rocks...not yet safe. When the bungee finally caught, I was having the time of my life. I can't put it into words. I've tried.

The scariest part was getting pulled back up. They send a guy down to unhook and rehook bungees and ropes. I hated this. He would clip something on, then something off, the something else on, then my bungee off. In my head, I was freaking out. This resulted in me grabbing the guy's harness. He told me that I was safe and that I could let go. No way, man. There is no way in the world I was letting go of him. He said it again, and I pretended I didn't hear and tightened my grip. Once I was back on the bridge, I clearly felt better! I never expected that the pulling up would be more nerve wracking than jumping off the bridge, but it was. 

If you have ever thought about bungee, you need to do it! If I didn't have to pay another R750 to do it again, I would have jumped right away and just put up with the coming up part. What an exhilarating feeling! LIVE LIFE!

Saturday, April 20, 2013


View from The Wild Farm backpackers

After Oudsthoorn, I stopped at Wilderness...awesome name for a city isn't it?! The Baz Bus doesn't drop off directly at the backpackers I was staying at (The Wild Farm), but a shuttle comes and fetches us (don't say pick up in South doesn't mean the same thing. It means hook up, for those of you who are
interested).  The shuttle that came was an old VW bus with an canopy top and painted white and lime green. The seats consisted of a single bench in the back and white plastic lawn chairs everywhere else. This was the first sign that I was going to hippie heaven.

Hippie Shuttle
That night, they were having a going away party for a friend and decided to have a trance party....wonderful. I stayed out and talked with some people for a while and then went to be early...around 12:00am. When I got up in the morning around 7:30am, people were still up partying...and continued into the afternoon. When I got up, I sat in the common living room area and was reading my book when two guys (both of which work at The Wild Farm) walked in. Where I was sitting was apparently picturesque, according to one of the guys. He started talking about the flower behind my head and how it must be loving life. Let me tell you what he said, I apologize for some of the swear words (he was definitely high):

Hippie (everything was said very slowly): "Maann, look at that flower...dude it's totally lovin' life right now, man. I mean, s***, it's just chillin' there....soakin' in all that morning dew. It must be happy, man...don't ya think?"

Me: "Yeah...definitely."

Hippie: "And it's basking in the warm morning sun! That flower is totally just livin' life man. And it gets to look at the ocean...yeah, that flower is definitely f***in' happy, man. It even gets people like me, telling it, "Hey. Flower. You're f***in' beautiful." It's livin' the life and it's happy, don't you think?

Me: (I answer the same question) " must be."

......Pause. He seemed to be thinking deep and philosophically about something.......

Hippie: "People call it a weed, man! Who came up with that? It's just out there growing, minding it's own business, and it's beautiful...but people call it a weed. Who decides what is a weed and what is a flower?"

....He was clearly upset with this.....

Me: "Yeah, I don't know. It is a pretty flower though."

Hippie: "I KNOW, man...."

Then the hippie left and went about his other business. It took so much to not laugh at the conversation. I had people drive me down to the beach that day and just spent the day there which was wonderful. I read a book and took in some sun. Wonderful afternoon.

The next day, I went on a hike to a waterfall with a girl from Ireland and three guys from Germany. It hike was awesome, but I was so scared that a baboon was going to come running through the forest and rip us apart. They are viscous creatures...a lion can a good fight with one of them...and the baboons can win, believe it or not. Luckily we only saw their poop and not an actual baboon. The waterfall was small, but it was a nice place to chill for about an hour.

Wilderness is a cute town in general. I must say that although The Wild Farm is not a good fit for my personality, the views were amazing and unbeatable. I realized how much I miss my car when I was there though. It has already been bothering me, but when I was somewhere that I didn't want to be, I really wanted to escape, but had no way of doing that. I'm looking forward to having a car when I get back home!!

Friday, April 19, 2013


 The next stop along the Garden Route for me was Oudtshoorn (prounced "oats-horn") which is up over the mountains away from the ocean. This town is even more quaint than Stellenbosch and was truly lovely. The reason I came to Oudtshoorn in the first place was to visit Cango Caves because everyone here who discovers that I am a geologists asks me, "Have you visited Cango Caves yet?!" I figured I should go.

The guide is putting his head in the opening
that we needed to crawl up through
The cave was really warm
and humid!
I met two awesome Norwegian girls, Hannah and Maria, at this backpackers (Backpackers Paradise) and we ended up spending the whole day together doing activities. We took the backpackers's shuttle up the mountain to Cango Caves then rode bikes back down (about 30 km) while stopping at different places along the way. We opted to do the adventure tour of the caves which is definitely worth it! We went in really small places and climbed up through small places that I'd never begin to think I could fit through in the first place. I always wonder who the crazy person was who thought, I wonder if i can fit through that small space without getting stuck. I guess I'll try it. If I get stuck, I'll call for someone to grab the soap! Adventurous people...crazy people. Let me just say, that none of this would happen in the States like it did here. We didn't have to wear helmets and we went barefoot as suggested by the guide.
You can stand on an ostrich
egg and it wont break!

The next stop was the Ostrich Farm, but let me say that the ride there was beautiful. Parts of the ride reminded me of parts of Montana that I did field camp in last summer. We took a tour of the Ostrich Farm and got to feed the Ostriches! They are crazy; their necks freak me out! They can seriously turn their head 360 degrees...crazy! They all look so grumpy too. We were given the chance to ride an ostrich, but the way they did it seemed so mean, so the three of us opted not to. On our final ride back to the backpackers, my bike got a flat tire...flat, flat tire. We tried repairing it on the side of the road, but we couldn't find the leak, so we walked the last 1.5 km back. I was happy to walk, though, because my butt was so sore!! That night the backpackers had a braai (similar to a BBQ) good!

Maria, Me, and Hannah near the top of the Mountain Pass.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Can you think of a better place to go wine tasting? .
...Neither can I!

After Anna and Wellyna went back to Grahamstown, I traveled on my own through four towns along the Garden Route. South Africa has an amazing hostel system and a great bus (Baz Bus) that takes backpackers door-to-door to each hostel. I've been very impressed with how well it's set up. On average, a dorm bed costs R120 (about $13) per night and many of them include a light breakfast, coffee, tea, shuttles, and helpful customer service. I don't know if I can ever go back to spending $100 on a hotel room in the states after this!

View from my balcony at the Banghoek Place
My first stop was Stellenbosch which was a great stop after the craziness of Cape Town. The town itself is small and quaint, but it's also a college town so it has that feel as well. It was amazing to immediately see Afrikaans take over here. English has been the dominant language everywhere I've been so far, but in Stellenbosch, the street signs are either first in Afrikaans then English or only in Afrikaans. Some people here, especially the older generation, do not speak English at all. It's funny that everyone here knows what my last name means. Apparently, however, I pronounce my last name incorrectly. Every time I say my last name (and subsequently asked to repeat and then spell), they say, "Oh! You mean Dunk-air." No, I mean Donker but sure, I'll start pronouncing my last name differently so you will understand and be satisfied. I'm also frequently asked, "You know what Dunk-air means, right?" Yes I do; I know my last name means 'dark.' They are often impressed that I actually know...

I booked a dorm room at Banghoek Place, but I got so lucky because no one else came to stay in that dorm either night I was there! I had the whole room to myself! The room even had a balcony overlooking the grounds and the mountains. A break from people was honestly needed...cities drive me crazy after a while!

The area of Stellenbosch is known for its wineries, so of course I booked a wine tour. At the backpackers, I met a couple of Americans from Chicago and the joined the tour as well. I can't even begin to explain how amazing it was to go wine tasting with beautiful mountains as the backdrop. The tour group leaves every day at 10:00 and returns at 17:00 and only cost R450 ($50) for the whole day including a cellar tour, wine tasting at four wineries, cheese tasting, lunch, and a safe designated driver (the tastes here are a bit more than a taste)! Interesting fact about Stellenbosch: If you visited four wineries every day, it would take you somewhere around 200 days to visit all the wineries in the area!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Cape Town Adventures

Drive to Cape Town
For our school holiday, Anna, Wellyna, and I went to Cape Town. The three of us were there together for 9 days, and I was there for 2 more days staying with a friend (my holiday is 2 weeks longer). If I covered everything that we did, this post would be annoyingly long to write...and probably to read. If you would like to know more about something, please write a comment and ask.

I would say that my favorite moments were hiking up Table Mountain, hiking around Cape Point, visiting Kirstenbosch Gardens, and drinking Cafe Mochas made with Lindt chocolate at Vida e Cafe. This is such a beautiful part of the country and definitely worth the stop! 

I've just decided to post a picture or two for each day to give a glimpse of what we/I did. 
Our hostel at Zebra Crossing. We had a private room which was very nice. 
Good Friday Service at Hillsong Church. We also went here for Easter Sunday.

Wellyna! We did some shopping on Longstreet.

A very windy evening at Sea Point, but a beautiful sunset.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens

Two Oceans Aquarium

District Six Museum

Penguins at Boulder Beach! 

Cape Point!

Hiking up Table Mountain (before the hike got nearly vertical)

Cape Town from Table Mountain.
Robben Island

Johnny Clegg concert at Kirstenbosch! Great concert.

Chapman's Peak Drive