Cape Town is a city that expands far beyond its confined area of concrete buildings and paved roads. I often feel trapped in cities, but this one is different. Cape Town has its own pulse and heartbeat, its own history and voice. From the music that echoes throughout the V&A Waterfront, to the crazy nights on Long Street, to the personalities in Langa Township, there is never a dull moment awaiting you.

Throughout this trip I’ve been traveling with my dad, but a week stuck in a car with someone is a long time. Twenty-four hours a day with the old man. After living alone at college for the last two years then shifting back to this, I needed a break. So I took to The Backpack hostel on New Church Street in desperate need of some adventure and new friends. I was not disappointed.

Let me preface this with the fact that I do not plan anything whatsoever when I stay at a hostel. I have a general idea of things I’d like to do, but find that it’s impossible to stick to anything I attempt to put together. In a hostel, it’s not weird to go up to someone and say, “Hi, where are you from?” One thing leads to the next, and you’re ready to venture out into the world with this person you’ve known for only twenty minutes. It’s exciting and refreshing. After meeting new people, I typically end up tagging along for whatever they’re doing. Instead of saying, “No, I have plans to go and do this alone,” I just ride with whatever comes along. Great things can happen when you don’t plan.

My first afternoon at The Backpack was, unplanned of course, spent strolling along the V&A Waterfront, wandering in and out of shops. Immediately upon walking back into the parking lot of The Backpack, my other new friend, who is also named Sophie, was literally getting into a car to go and climb Lion’s Head Mountain. Naturally, I got an invite to join. The timing couldn’t have been better if I had tried. So I hopped in the car and along we went. I was pretty ill prepared, thinking for some reason this place would be more of a hill than a mountain. As we climbed higher and higher, it became clear this was not what I signed up for. Did I mention I hate heights? Honestly, if I had planned this one out, I very well may have not gone at all. After grasping every rock for dear life and doing my best not to look down, we finally made it to the top. The view was nothing short of spectacular.

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From that moment on, I knew Cape Town held nothing but great things in store. The rest of my stay at The Backpack includes spontaneous visits to the aquarium, a few nights out on the infamous Long Street, playing with puppies, and more. Even on a different continent filled with strange and foreign animals, I always flock back to puppies.
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A large question regarding Cape Town is not necessarily in the great things that it holds, but in its safety. As a young, female traveler, I did my due research, and was slightly alarmed at the potential dangers that await if you’re not careful. I was told not to go into the city bowl on Sundays because less people are around. Be careful what you carry, there’s a lot of pick pockets and thieves. Don’t go out alone at night. If you carry a bag, always keep a hand on it. One guy I met at the hostel was even held at knife point and told to give over his phone, an occurrence that isn’t uncommon in Cape Town. Wandering around the streets, I stumbled upon a hostage situation at Cash City. They sent in a SWAT team and everything. I felt like I was reporting live at the scene. From what I heard afterwards, no one was hurt. Every city has its dangers, from New York to London, but it’s questionable as to whether they parallel those of Cape Town.

The second half of my experience in Cape Town was spent with some old family friends. Instead of staying in the heart of the city bowl, we were closer to the western side of the Cape. The last time they saw me was during my tomboy phase, so I’d say I’ve stepped up in life since that time.

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We did some of the typical tourist things, like Kirstenbosch gardens and the District Six Museum, both of which I would say are a must see. The boys also took me out to see my first ever rugby game, the Stormers vs. the Sunwolves. As an American, half of the game was spent asking and answering my questions. I’d say they were very patient with me but I’m sure the 4 to 5 beers they had during that time also helped.

The majority of the trip from that point on was a somewhat entertaining failure. We woke up at a hefty five in the morning to go cage diving, got out on the water, only to sit dry on the boat the entire time. Didn’t even put on a wetsuit. The wind was coming from the wrong direction, making the water extra rough and difficult to see sharks, so no cage for us. We were lucky enough to spot a few, but to be in the water with them would have been a whole different beast. We also went to climb the famous Table Mountain, something that is on the must-do checklist when visiting Cape Town, only to find out that the cable car wasn’t running that day. Without enough sunlight left to climb up the mountain and back down, we had to call it quits. Lion’s Head still makes up for it, at least in my books… It also gives me another reason to go back.

I’m no city girl, don’t get me wrong. To be stuck in a concrete jungle is not my forte, but there’s something about Cape Town that stole my heart. It’s a city that lives and breathes through its people and has the ability to produce the most unexpected, exciting moments. If I could do it over again, the only thing I would do differently is stay longer. Cape Town deserves more than a week. If you ever get the chance, don’t turn it down. And don’t forget to pack me in your suitcase, too.

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I like to call Satara the land of everything. As the second largest lodge in the park, I had my doubts, thinking there would be so many people around that the animals would be scared off. In fact, the exact opposite occurred. I learned that animals don’t see people within the cars, they simply see the car as one single moving object. For the exact reason that there are so many people at this camp, the animals have become accustomed to cars and therefore allow viewers to come much closer. Even closer than I was expecting…

We lined up to get out of the gates when they opened up at 6am only to find that there were already five cars in front of us! I was hoping more people would sleep in while they were on “vacation.” Guess not…

Driving down the road as the scenery around us shifted from silhouettes to dusted in gold took our breath away, but as a four-pawed feline waltzed onto the road, we understood the madness of waking up at 5:30 every morning to be the first out of the gates. Our new friend just so happened to be the ever-elusive leopard. Many a time we have asked park rangers, locals, and even guides for tips on looking for leopards, and all they ever did was smile and say something along the lines of, “You’ll need good placement, timing, but mostly a lot of luck.” One person even told us, “You don’t find the leopard, the leopard finds you.” So essentially, the stars had aligned in our favor and we stumbled upon a leopard just as it was crossing the road. Sadly, we have no pictures for this fellow, but it’s certainly hardwired into my memory forever.

Another friend we made includes this monkey, who effortlessly stole my heart.

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From there, we encountered zebra, elephants, giraffes, Impala and Kudu (you’ll have to excuse my spelling on that one…), and more.

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I had two big “lifers” today, or two things that I’m seeing for the first time, other than in the zoo. The first, I genuinely thought was a tree until it started to move. With its tall legs, awkwardly bulky body, and even longer neck, the ostrich was one that totally caught me off guard. Apparently, cars don’t scare this bird either, as it wandered across the road and even ran next to us for a few moments.

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My next lifer was the one I had been waiting for, and also my self-proclaimed spirit animal due to the mane-like hair I used to have. (Shameless self promo: click here to see another blog of mine showing my crazy wig of hair and how it’s changed!) If you haven’t guessed it yet, this is my number one out of the big five: the lion. We had seen a few at a distance, but nothing like what was about to be witnessed. Driving past the hoard of cars, it wasn’t until we looked down rather than out that we realized we were right on top of the lions, literally. They were strewn across the dirt path, not even slightly bothered that cars were rolling by close enough to hear their panting. These furry felines looked sweet enough to cuddle with, but had deceptively killed a baby giraffe just hours before.

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After so many incredible experiences at Satara, it was hard to say goodbye. Hopefully I can smuggle myself into someone’s suitcase and make my way back to Kruger.

I really had no idea what I was getting into when I signed up for this whole safari thing. Our first pit stop for two nights was Berg-en-dal, one of the southernmost camps inside of Kruger National Park. The gates to each camp has a strict opening and closing time policy for the safety of visitors, just in case a lion wanted a midnight snack. With that in mind, we were up at first light to leave the gates at 6am. College did not prepare me for such early mornings.

We had been driving for less than an hour when we rounded the corner and almost had a heart attack. Less than forty feet from the side of the road were two rhinos. I had seen them at the zoo before, but these suckers looked three times as large in real life, particularly when there’s no fence in-between their two ton bodies and our flimsy metal car. They were magnificent to see up close, but every time one made a swift movement we were reminded of just how strong and dangerous they could be. They could squish us like a kid stepping on a sand castle. As one of the Big Five, they are among the top five most dangerous animals, but man, do they make for a great picture.

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Excitement brimming over, we couldn’t help but stop for every little thing, including Impala. These dainty creatures are very similar to deer, but with varying color schemes and different horns. As our brakes began to wear down every time they crossed the road, we soon realized impalas are just about as common as deer are in New Jersey. Still spectacular, none the less. There may be dozens of them in a heard, but they seem to move as one single unit, simultaneously flinching as we drove past or made any kind of noise.  I got these two shots as my dad sneezed from inside the car. Imagine coming home past curfew and having these twenty sets of eyes on you.

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It turns out that being amped up for so long will take its toll. Before I knew it, we had pulled over on a smaller dirt road and I was out for the count. Stone cold. You couldn’t wake me even if you dumped a bucket of river water on my head. Dad was off staring out the car window into his land of birds, nothing unexpected. From my deep land of deep sleep, a crunching noise back in the real world began to stir me. Out of my abyss I came, and the steady crunching noise grew louder. As I glanced to my left, a herd of at least 6 gargantuan elephants was making a beeline towards us with no room to spare. Bird man was oblivious until I slapped him on the arm and he put down the binoculars, instantly punching the gas and speeding away just as an elephant put its foot down where our car had been. As we pulled farther up the road, we came across a watering hole, and soon after arrived the herd of elephants. We had been directly in the way. Having escaped unscathed, we thought it one of the best moments of the trip.

Just a few minutes before a man had warned us of elephants heading our way, but we didn’t think he meant directly towards us! Next time I suppose we should take advice more literally…

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To any concerned friends or family members that may be reading this, the park is very safe, but we just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, not paying attention. Don’t worry, we certainly learned our lesson. But just to comfort you, here’s a picture of a cute monkey.

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My African Adventure: Take Off

 

After a semester of taking an extra class at college and working with my dad around the clock when I got home, my passport was convulsing its way out of my bag. The time to leave could not come soon enough. We whirled around the house like that tornado character from the Looney Toons, fixing and cleaning and moving things to get out in time to make our flight.

Before my sister, Sammy, took off on her grandeur trip around Europe, my dad and I had a layover in London and decided to meet up with her. Dad tried to tag along for the walk but just couldn’t keep up with us. He came to resemble a dead corpse in the grass as he slept, occasionally snoring, confirming to concerned onlookers that he was, indeed, alive and breathing.

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Impatiently sitting through a ten-hour flight and then a four-hour drive, we finally arrive to Kruger National Park in South Africa. For the last hour of light, we drove through the golden brush as the sun slipped behind the hills, and I urged my dad to stop approximately every two minutes to “Look at that giraffe,” “Stoooooop the car, that’s an elephant in front of us,” or propose a conspiracy theory: “Did you drop us into an episode of National Geographic?”

I could probably post 200 photos from that sixty-minute drive, but I’m really going to implement some self-restraint here… but only because it will certainly dwindle later, if not in the next twenty-four hours. So, here’s an elephant. One, single elephant… For now.

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A young person’s view on what we should be doing to popularize wildlife in the USA. Getting back to nature and away from our phones.

Glass can be crafted into countless objects that take on many different forms, from bottles, to windows, to binoculars. While these beautiful creations are certainly pleasant to look at and use, my favorite form of glass is actually when it’s broken. This may sound a little peculiar, but it will all make sense in just a moment.

Sea glass is glass that has been thrown, dumped, or dropped, purposefully or accidentally, into the sea. There, it spends years being tumbled between waves, rocks, and sand. Over time the sharp edges are worn away, leaving behind rounded ends and a foggy complex. The glass that was once clear loses its shine and takes on a textured, rougher feel. Although sea glass has a white tint when dry, it glistens when freshly out of the water. I often feel like I’ve found a gem from a treasure chest when I see a piece nestled between the pebbles, just out of touch from the waves kissing the shoreline.

Amidst all of the other pebbles on the beach, it can be hard to spot a piece of sea glass, especially when the clear pieces easily blend in. On days when I’m stressed out or simply want to get outside, I slowly stroll down the shoreline, scanning the ground in a methodical, back and forth manner. Step by step, side to side, I make my way down the beach. Once you find even a handful of pieces, your eyes begin to tune in to various shapes and colors, like the way the foggy texture of sea glass stands out among the grainy sand and other smooth rocks.

Walking down the beach frees up some time to think, some time to clear the mind. There’s nothing like the natural remedy of salt air and the sound of the ocean. Thinking about nothing, the way the beach has been here for thousands of years. Thinking about how old the sand is that I’m walking on. In a town like Victorian Cape May, where I was born and raised, there’s no telling just how old some of these pieces could be or what stories they have to tell. Hundreds of years of history could be right at my fingertips.

While sea glass never fails to be stunning and unique, it’s important to remember that these mysterious little treasures are a result of pollution. I love finding pieces on the beach, but I love the ocean even more. For that very reason, it is vital to keep our oceans clean and do not dump glass (or anything, for that matter) into the water. This planet is our home, and it’s our job to keep it clean.

On the flip side of that, and on a bit more of a positive note, you can think of looking for sea glass as not only a treasure hunt, but as a beach cleanup. So keep looking, keep treasure hunting, and keep our beaches and oceans clean!

Colombia

A little throwback to my Colombian adventure during Sophomore year of high school

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Alaskan Dreams

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Snow Daze

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A day of missed classes up at the College of New Jersey.

Model: Greta Radvilaite

This video is from my senior year of high school, and still remains one of my favorites today.