Wrapping Up Africa

Spending the second half of our visit in the Sea Point area of Cape Town was definitely a good call. The apartment is much more comfortable, its great to have a view of the ocean, and it feels a lot safer. (Even though all the houses have electrical fencing, security cameras, and spikes.)


We got together for dinner with a woman we met on the wine tour.  She’s a well-travelled Australian who also works in technology. It was interesting to hear her perspective on being a women in a male-dominated industry – a very familiar conversation, unfortunately, though I had hoped that the UK or Australia might be a little different. Regardless, it was nice to have a conversation that went deeper than travel stories. And the restaurant was also quite charming:

Kloof Street House
Kloof Street House Restaurant & Bar

With only a week left, it was time to power through some tourist activities!

Against my better judgement, we decided to hike up Table Mountain (instead of taking the ariel tram). It was a gorgeous, clear day so we stupidly left around noon to start climbing over rocks in what turned out to be a predomintatly shade-free trail.

Table Mountain Trail
The start of the trail. Yes, we walked all the way up that mountain in the background

In places where its particularly likely you might fall off the mountain, they have thoughtfully added a barbed wire railing. So if you don’t slip to your death, you’ll still walk away bleeding.

We made it to the top 2.5 hours later, after a lot of sweating and swearing. It was tougher than we anticipated (though certainly easier than Kilimanjaro) and we were rewarded with incredible views, plus an easy ride down in the tram.


The next day we booked a tour to see the Cape of Good Hope and the penguin colony that lives at Boulders Beach. Our guide was originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo and spoke at least 7 languages, knew an incredible amount of history, and told us fascinating stories while also driving a large van through narrow streets. I continue to be impressed by everyone’s depth of knowledge and breadth of skills.

As we went past a large intersection just outside of town, we noticed a bunch of people hanging around, hoping to pick up work. Some had signs like “childcare” or “housework”, while others were looking for any kind of manual labour. The unemployment rate in South Africa is 26%  (compared to around 5% in the USA). He told us about Nelson Mandela’s observation that South Africa used to have way more prisons than schools. Thanks to him, those numbers have been reversed. Cape Town is so modern, but you can still see the development happening.

But I digress – the stops along the tour were gorgeous, including Camps Bay beach, playful seals at Houts Bay, and the Cape of Good Hope. And of course, I loved seeing the wild penguins at Boulders Beach (even though it was exasperating negotiating our way through the large groups of tourists, jockeying for a good photo position).


One custom I really like here is that people say “pleasure” instead of “you’re welcome”. So when someone brings me a coffee in a cafe, I say “thank you” and their response is “pleasure”.  It’s a nice sentiment, and I’m going to try and work this into my regular vocabulary.

With few exceptions, everyone has been incredibly friendly and very open. As I’ve mentioned, the Zumba community has been beyond amazing, but we’ve also had very  interesting chats with Uber drivers, restaurant staff, shop clerks, and bartenders…

… especially the guys at Outrage of Modesty, which was a Cape Town highlight.  Its a tiny little cocktail bar with a staff of 4 friendly and enthusiastic bartender/chefs. They make incredibly creative cocktails out of fresh, local ingredients and will pair them with inventive snacks.

They identify the drink by flavour profile, not spirit or specific ingredients.  I loved this as I wound up drinking (and enjoying) a number of things that I never would have normally ordered. The drinks and snacks incorporate local ingredients, foams, purees, artisan ice cubes, flames, dry ice, custom infusions and a lot of passion. We loved the whole experience, from the secretive location to the friendly staff, and of course the food and drinks.

Outrage of Modesty
Our pear-infused wine cocktail with a vanilla straw.


And before we left Cape Town, I also got a much-needed haircut, took a bunch more Zumba classes, did some shopping, and enjoyed several lovely dinners.

As we are leaving Africa, I’m feeling incredibly grateful for my situation… because I’ve never been a refugee or an orphan, because I can move (relatively) freely from country to country around the world, and because I come from a place with high-value currency. I’m rarely exposed to people with those experiences in the US, but here it happens daily.

I had hoped that coming to Africa would help reset some of my habits and remind me of what’s important. I think it’s done that: I’ve got far fewer physical possessions, I’m much more physically active, and my interactions with kind strangers have been the most valuable part of our time here. (And I also have a newfound appreciation for a decent internet connection.)

While traveling through Africa is not always easy, it’s always worthwhile. I hope I’ll be back again soon.

And now for something completely different, we are headed to Dubai…


Zumba in Cape Town – Part 2

(If you missed Part 1, its over here…)

My Cape Town Zumba-thon continued with Monique’s class – at the risk of being repetitive, it was another fantastic one! It’s amazing how much energy the students and instructors bring to the class.

Like the others, Monique was super-welcoming and her packed class was tons of fun! She’s a great instructor with years of teaching and mentoring experience.  She was very easy to follow and clearly loves hip hop, which is always a favourite of mine.

There were several other instructors there too. I especially enjoyed Lucas, who is the South Africa ZES (the person who instructs instructors) – he incorporated a lot of African dance styles and music into his routines. And Westley is an amazing dancer with incredible energy (more on him later).

Monique's Class
A subset of Monique’s fabulous class!

I’m impressed with how often I’ve seen instructors taking each other’s classes here. I know how much time it takes to prep for your own class, not to mention holding down a day job… Cape Town has a very dedicated and passionate group of instructors!


The next weekend, Omar invited me out to wine country for a special 90 minute class.  The gym was close to a University campus, so the class was predomonantly college students.  It was exam time, so our host Natasha, was a little worried the class would be small… they only had about 65 students show up instead of their normal 80 or so. (Ha!).

Its such an incredibly supportive community in Cape Town- there were 7 guest instructors who came along (plus me). Most of them traveled 40-60km (about a 45 min drive) to support Natasha.  And this wasn’t a special fundraising event – just a regular class. This gives the students exposure to different styles, gives the instructors a chance to learn from each other, and everyone has such a good time. It was so nice of them to invite me along (and for Monique & Westley to drive me there).

So many instructors!
When was the last time you went to an event with 9 instructors?!


I’ll confess I took a couple days off after that to play tourist… the climb up Table Mountain was rough on my knees so I needed to let them rest (briefly) before I jumped back into it…

… with Zumba with Jess, who teaches twice a week in Sea Point (very close to where I was staying). Jess is vivacious and teaches in a small studio filled with incredibly friendly students.  She leaned towards latin songs and had disco lights, which transformed the pilates studio into a Zumba dance club!
I followed this with Westley‘s class, which Virgin Active calls “Groove” on the schedule (but it was essentially Zumba). Jevon also joined him, when meant 2 high-energy guys to work the class into a frenzy.  They were both so easy to follow, super energetic, and the right amount of sass.  Everyone was having so much fun they kept begging them to do more songs, so it ultimately turned into an 80 minute class. (Ask Virgin Active Wembley Square for their current teaching schedule.)


Then the grand finale was a special 90 minute BioRhithm class on Heritage Day.  The whole crew was there – Rukaya, Mansoor, Omar and Marel, plus all of their newer instructors.

The whole entourage of instructors

It was non-stop for 90 minutes and the room was never low on energy thanks to all these instructors, working hard to keep everyone fired up the entire time. And then of course, there was plenty of photos afterward:


Big thanks to Omar (of BioRithms) and Cindy (from the Zumba Addicts group) for all their hospitality – I never expected to meet so many people and take so many fantastic classes in Cape Town.  I’m blown away by how many enthusiastic students and incredible teachers there are here. And I am really touched by what strong and supportive community this is. I’ve learned a lot and had a blast!

With Cindy
Cindy looks flawless while I look like a sweaty mess…

Cape Town – Part 1

We arrived in Cape Town, excited about all the modern conveiences – grocery stores (with products we recognize and packaging we can read!), good wine, and internet that functions reliably (even if its not always fast). And everything is really reasonably priced – a decent bottle of wine is about $6.

Our first AirBnB was in a pretty central, downtown-ish area (Der Waterkant), which is also supposed to be the gay neighbourhood. (I wouldn’t have known except that someone told me.)

Amarula (the African Bailey’s) and a Netflix binge while we did many loads of laundry.

We pretty much spent the first 2 days doing laundry (to get all the Kilimanjaro dust out of our clothing), with the occassional outing to buy more wine & cheese. It was nice to have our own space, not be changing locations every few days, and not having a tour guide chaperone us all the time.

Everyone says Cape Town reminds them of SF, and I can see why – they are both relatively small coastal cities with weather that can change dramatically in a matter of minutes. SF has “Karl the Fog” and Cape Town has “The Tablecloth” (which I think technically is only visible in their summer months but it seems like its always foggy up on the mountain). Both cities love hipster coffee, creative cuisine, and have huge wine-growing regions nearby.

Winter is turning into Spring here, which is similar SF’s summer weather… so in other words, not exactly warm. My clothing options at this point are workout clothes or safari attire or long underwear. So basically, I’m always cold and desparately need some warmer “city clothes”, but I can’t quite find what I need/want.

We’ve heard a lot of talk about safety – things like “Cape Town is like any other city – just be vigilant.” The fact that everyone says this to you means that Cape Town isn’t like any other city. When pressed, you get advice like “Just don’t walk alone anywhere… And avoid deserted streets…. And don’t walk anywhere at night…” I was waiting for an Uber after a Zumba class at 10am on a Sat morning and they told me I should wait inside the barbed wire fence surrounding the high school, rather than on the sidewalk.

So now we are extremely paranoid about walking anywhere, which is a bummer… we both love walking around and exploring cities but its clearly just not done here (even during the day). Even in the areas where its supposedly safe to walk around, we are aggressively hit up for money and the people are hard to shake – they walk with you for blocks, telling you their stories. Plus, cars either aren’t accustomed to pedestrians or don’t care. Crossing the street means taking your life into your hands. Thankfully, Uber offered me a random “50% off your next 10 rides” promo – serendipitous given how much we’re using it here.

If I’m being totally honest, I’m homesick. I’m missing my friends… and my clothes. I think the similarities to SF also emphasize the differences and I’m wishing I could meet up with my friends over some queso. (I watched a show where they were eating burritos and I can’t stop thinking about how amazing a burrito would be right now.)

That said, it’s not like we are suffering – as I mentioned, the Zumba community has been beyond amazing, we are eating really well, and it’s been fun to explore Cape Town.

So let’s talk about the good things:

There’s really good graphic design everywhere.  The South African money is lovely, most cafes and restaurants have nicely designed menus, and many producs have great packaging. I’m continually impressed with the quality of design here.

At our AirBnB hosts’ recommendation, we spent a day on one of those hop-on/hop-off tour buses. I was initially reluctant as they just seem so blatantly touristy, but it was a great way to see a bunch of different areas. And once I learned that they also stopped at a couple wineries, I got over my prejudice.

I have to admit that the bus did a good job providing an overview of the city’s history, and it did stop at a bunch of interesting places. We first hopped off at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, which were vast and gorgeous. I especially liked the bridge through the tree canopy.

Canopy Bridge

Next was Constantia, which is a wine region very close to the city. Wine tasting wasn’t entirely different from that in Napa or Sonoma, but it was a lot less crowded and a lot cheaper. I loved the way our wine steward spoke about the wines – he said things like “If I could, I would play violin music now as this Chardonnay is like a romance…”

We went to Beau Constantia, which was an ultra-modern building with fabulous wines and an incredible view. Most vineyards offer the option of cheese platters with your wine tasting – I don’t know why that doesn’t happen more often in Napa! We had generous portions of cheese and wine overlooking the vineyard before taking the bus back up the western coast of the city.

Beau Constantia
How very civilized…
Beau Constantia Loo
The “loo with a view” did not disappoint!

We did find an impressively Steampunk coffeeshop in central Cape Town one day. The interior is amazing and all of the staff were dressed in Steampunk attire. (I love a good theme.) And the coffee was great, too.


After a week, we decided to move AirBnBs to the Sea Point area. We’ve got great views of the ocean from our place, and its a lot more walkable (during the day). Plus its a really nicely designed studio with slightly better wifi. All in all, it feels better here.

Sea Point AirBnB
I especially love the coffee table…

We went on a day-long wine tour with a small group. Our guide was friendly and informative, and it was a diverse group so that made it entertaining. We hit 4 different wineries, and we also stopped for fresh strawberries at a farm stand along with a local biltong spot (which is like jerky – I didn’t actually go inside that one). All in all, a nice day even though it was pretty cold and grey.

While the wine tasting itself was pretty comparable to what you’d experience in Napa or Sonoma, the landscape is a lot more lush. Many wineries have zebra or antelope or ostrich either nearby or on the property – this will never cease to be exciting to me! And again, there was no shortage of cheese so I didn’t hate that, and the prices are great.  (We splashed out and bought a really nice bottle for $9.)

Stellenbosch Winery
Those dots off in the distance are zebra and antelope.

Our AirBnB backs up to a hill and on a very rainy day the sound of the frogs was overwhelming… like a crazy frog party in our back yard! As someone who’s been living in a city for the last 20+ years, I find it very charming. But dang, they kept that chorus going constantly!

So now we’ve got just over a week left here. I still have a long list of tourist outings (like Table Mountain, and penguin viewing, etc), plus a few more Zumba classes thanks to Cindy and Omar, so I’m glad we didn’t rush our time here. Going from safari “vacation” mode back to “traveler” mode was a little bumpy (and I’m still very much missing my friends, and also burritos), but I’m feeling a lot better now.  Still cold, but better. 🙂

Zumba in Cape Town

After being Zumba-less for a month in Tanzania, I was excited to get back to it. I did my usual pre-trip research on zumba.com, emailed some local instructors, and I also found a Facebook group for Cape Town Zumba Addicts which listed a lot of local events.

ZINs take note: they are desparate for Zumbawear down here! You could probably fund a trip to Cape Town by filling your suitcase with clothing and selling it…

I have been blown away by how friendly and close-knit the community is! After a few emails and a Facebook post, I had lots of messages with people offering me class info, rides to classes, and guest access to gyms. (Many classes happen at gyms here… I was hoping to get a short-term membership, but it was just way too expensive.) I’m incredibly grateful that so many people have offered to list me as their guest!

In 3 days I’ve been to 3 different classes.  Class sizes are big here – the smallest one was probably 30 people, and that’s because it was a holiday weekend.  Most seem to be around 50-80 students!

My first class was with the BioRithim group on Saturay morning. This is a family affair – Omar is the community leader for South African instructors, his wife Marel also teaches, as does their son Mansoor (who is the only South African Zumba Jammer – aka choreographer instructor), and Mansoor’s wife Rukaya is also an instructor. They teach together 3 times a week, they also all teach at various gyms separately, plus they rehearse together twice a week. Oh, and several of them have day jobs, too. (I’m exhausted just thinking about all that!)

Omar & Marel were teaching that morning and they were so incredibly welcoming! They have a huge hall at a high school filled with such a diverse student group – people of all different colours, shapes, sizes, age and gender. And everyone loves to shake it! (Marel can seriously booty-pop like no one’s business!) They are easy to follow, and make the whole class such a fun and positive experience for everyone.

With some of their class – Omar and Marel are to my left

Sunday morning was Mansoor’s class, which was overflowing a decent-sized studio at a Virgin Active gym. I can see why everyone loves him – he’s a fantastic dancer, has infectious energy, and is incredibly nice. And his whole family was there to help out and dance along. Everyone greeted me with hugs and smiles – they are all so sincerely warm & friendly.

Mansoor's Class
Its impossible not to have a good time with this crew!

After class I grabbed breakfast with two of the other Zumba Addicts. We took turns grilling each other about life in Cape Town/America, and also talked politics, family life, and Zumba gossip (of course). I loved getting to know them and Cindy knows about every class in the city so she’s been a great Zumba tour guide!

Monday night I went to Taryn’s class. She’s an incredible bundle of energy in a tiny package.  She teaches 12 classes a week (!!), and on some nights does 2 classes back to back.  She’s lost an impressive 40kg (88 lbs) thanks to Zumba and making adjustments to her diet – its an inspiring story! Her Monday night class is essentially held on a basketball court, and she’s got enough energy to reach to the other end of the building – its impressive!

I’ve been in many different countries with many different instructors now, but the feeling is the same – everyone is incredibly welcoming to visitors…  no matter how packed the class, they are happy to make room for one more. The established teachers always encourage new instructors by having them lead a song or co-teach songs with them.  Its such a consistently supportive environment, which is really amazing and I’m so grateful for it. (The belly dancing community in SF was much more competitive so this is a nice difference.)

Each instructor has invited me to do a couple songs, which is fun but also a great way for me to improve my own skills.  Teaching to unfamiliar students in these various venues is great experience, plus its helpful to see how different teachers cue their students.  And of course, its always fun to dance to new routines!

I’m here for another 10 days and Omar has basically outlined a schedule where I have a class with a different teacher every day! I may have to take a day or two off so I have time to be a tourist (ha), but I’m blown away by what a closecommunity this is and how much they support each other and their students.